When Jeremy Corbyn asked me to take the role of Shadow Europe Minister, I was very aware that the upcoming EU referendum made the timing of my appointment significant.
The referendum is the single most important decision that will be taken in this Parliament. It will impact on this and future generations; it will have profound implications for our future prosperity, jobs, security and our place in the world and I fully appreciate the importance of my role as European spokesperson for a political party that is absolutely united on this issue.
Our world is becoming more and more globalised. The problems that we face are complex and need complex and international responses. We cannot solve the problems of climate change, international terrorism, international crime, mass migration across the world on our own. We can only make progress on these things by working with others. If the EU justice network did not exist we would need to create it or risk criminals committing crime with impunity across our borders.
Despite the growing importance of the service and financial sectors Britain remains a manufacturing country. EU trade is worth £400bn to the UK annually, 52% of what we export nationally as a country goes directly to the EU, around 75% in the North East, where my constituents live and work. Millions of British jobs rely directly and indirectly on our membership of the EU; we paid £6bn to the EU last year and received £400bn in trade in return, and we received £1.2Tn in investment last year because we are a gateway to markets in the EU.
In the North East our reliance on trade with the EU is even greater. We are the only region of the Country that has a positive trade surplus. In this region we still make things and we export the things we make mainly to the EU. Last year we made more cars in one month in Sunderland than were made in a year in the whole of Italy and we export most of those cars to the EU. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the NE rely directly or indirectly on our membership of the EU. Industries like car manufacture, chemical, mechanical and structural engineering all remain strong in the NE and most exports go directly to Europe.
‘Brexit’ campaigners make a completely unrealistic and unsustainable argument that the UK can simply walk away from the EU and yet magically retain access to markets and trade agreements that exist precisely because of our membership of the EU. Much is made of the ‘Norway’ and ‘Switzerland’ deals when in reality these countries pay almost the same as we do per head to access the single market, yet they must abide by EU regulations and rules on trade and free movement of people, and they have no say whatsoever over those rules and regulations.
The principal aim in establishing the EU was peace. Up until 1945 we in Western Europe committed genocide on one another every 20-30 years and whilst the EU is not the only reason why there has been peace in Western Europe for the last 70 years it remains the single most important reason. We now sort out our differences around a negotiating table and not on a battlefield. In an increasingly unsafe and unstable world, I believe that Britain’s future safety and stability lies firmly at the heart of Europe.
‘Brexit’ campaigners wish to leave the EU at whatever cost to Britain’s economy and the rights of workers, and they deliberately hide behind issues such as migration and nationalism to persuade voters to support their position. However they have no answers to concerns about tensions with Russia and conflict inEastern Europe, the future of the Irish peace process if borders between the South and North of Ireland have to be reintroduced, to international terrorism and climate change and other international problems that know no boundaries. If England votes to leave the EU and Scotland votes to remain that could well be the starting gun to the break-up of the UK so it will not be plucky little Britain standing outside the EU it will be an increasingly isolated England on its own in an increasingly troubled world.
I am a patriot and want to see Britain standing strong and leading in Europe. I do not believe that the EU is perfect, far from it, but I want to see a more social, progressive Europe that works for people by supporting a jobs and growth agenda ahead of one of liberalisation and privatisation, where we can build on our rights as workers, tackle the curse of zero hour contracts, work together to deal with tax evasion across the EU and build on agreed standards on climate change and international trade.
I hope you will join me in voting to remain in the EU where we can continue to build a mutually beneficial future with our European partners.
Pat Glass is the MP for North West Durham and Shadow Europe Minister.