Being in the EU is valuable, no matter what deal is made for the benefit of Tory backbenchers
This week, a deal is being made in Brussels which will affect all of our futures, and it’s a deal which I am sure David Cameron intends to take full credit for.
But Cameron’s deal is not why we should vote to remain in the EU, even if the deal itself may be useful. We should vote to remain in the EU because being in the EU was already valuable, no matter what deal has been struck for the benefit of Cameron’s backbenchers, or what changes may happen as a result. Being in the EU is already a victory for us, in many diverse ways.
The fact that Cameron has a deal at all disproves much of what even some of his own allies say about Europe. It is a common Eurosceptic argument that Britain is essentially voiceless within the EU, with no ability to influence decisions.
The argument that Britain is powerless as a member of the EU is nonsense. This is demonstrated by the other member states being willing to negotiate at all. Our European partners value and respect us, and they are willing to give us a deal which is not on the offer to anybody else. They are bending over backwards to try to meet our needs.
But ultimately no one will be given the chance in the UK to vote for or against Cameron’s deal. Our referendum will be on staying or leaving the EU. That’s why, regardless of what happens in the negotiations rooms of the Council of Ministers in Brussels, I’ll be out and about across the North East on Thursday launching our Labour In For Britain campaign with Alan Johnson MP.
Joined by trade unionists, business, community activists and Labour members from across the North East, I’ll be making the case for why we are better off in the EU. It’s a strong regional case as we are net beneficiaries of our EU membership in terms of investment, jobs and rights.
Let’s not forget, it is not Cameron, or the Tories at home or in Brussels, who have prioritised workers’ rights in our common market, or who demand measures be put in place to prevent undercutting and the exploitation of workers brought to Britain to provide cheap labour.
On the contrary, rather than use the renegotiation to do this, the Tories initially threatened to renegotiate away all our rights at work, and the pernicious trade union bill gives a glimpse of what leaving the EU would mean for them. It is a victory of the Labour movement that the EU social chapter of rights was taken off the table, to the irritation of rabid Tory free-traders.
The social chapter, which John Major’s Tory government opted us out of and the new Labour government signed us up to in 1997, sets out basic rights at work: maximum working hours and paid holidays, equal pay for equal work, parental leave, equal treatment and anti-discrimination, the same rights for part-time and agency workers as full time workers, worker information and consultation when a company restructures or changes hands and the subsequent transfer of employment rights (TUPE).
It is not the Tories who pushed for these rights, and so today it is not them who ought to claim responsibility for the rights guaranteed by Europe which we enjoy today. It is the Labour movement who upholds such values in Europe, and historically, both as a government and in the European Parliament, Labour politicians have got such legislation on the EU table for negotiation.
The world has changed since 1975. The letter published in the Sunday Mirror last weekend signed by five Labour grandees shows just how far our relationship with Europe has changed with time. Neil Kinnock, Margaret Beckett, David Blunkett, Jack Straw and Hilary Benn all reaffirmed their commitment to the European project.
All had previously been against our membership of the EEC during the 1975 referendum, and all now believe we should remain. It is striking that so many major figures in our party have changed their minds based on the economic and social evidence of the benefits of our continued membership.
I am a Labour MEP for the North East of England, and I think it is important to remember that ultimately it is not Brussels who will win this argument for us, but Britain. The deal may be forged in Brussels but the battle for our membership of the EU will be won or lost on the streets of the North East and other regions. It would be worth staying in the EU without this deal, and it is worth staying in the EU with it on offer.
The question of our membership is a bigger question than any deal done by Cameron, and the answer to that question must be yes.
Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England. Follow her on Twitter