Newspaper column: EU debate must be honest, frank and responsible

Jo Cox calling for informed debate ahead of the EU referendumThe prime minister has fired the starting pistol on campaigning ahead of the EU referendum, which we now know will be held on June 23.

Our problem here in Britain is that the debate is polarised by our media and many of our politicians and as a result it is rarely reasoned or responsible. There are so many myths about the EU but the most repeated is that the EU is incapable of reform. Actually, it is always changing and adapting. As for the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’, not a single thing the European Commission, its civil service, puts forwards can happen without member states – i.e. the British Government – signing it off.

In contrast to the Tories, who are riven with division on this, Labour is almost wholly united. The majority of our MPs and members are committed to remaining in Europe and more than 90 per cent of MPs have signed up to the Labour In For Britain parliamentary group, including Jeremy Corbyn and the entire shadow cabinet. We also unanimously agreed the GMB union’s motion last year committing us to campaigning to stay in the EU.

But we have to make the case in an honest and frank way.

My colleague Stephen Kinnock MP put it well: “Labour must not allow the EU referendum to be about deciding whether or not Polish plumbers or Latvian taxi drivers are allowed to claim tax credits. Rather, we must ensure that we make this a referendum about what sort of country we want to live in, and what sort of nation we want the United Kingdom to be. This referendum must be about what it means to be British in the 21st century.”

He is right.

Exiting the EU would be a disaster for Britain and we must make that case. We cannot let this important debate be reduced to a referendum on migration. Yes, immigration should and will be part of the debate but we must focus on the bigger arguments and be talking about jobs, investment, security and our influence in the world.

Working people are better off in the EU and we should say so. European laws have guaranteed us better rights and protections for working people such as paid annual leave, rights for agency workers and paid maternity leave.

We are more secure thanks to the EU. Tracking down cross-border criminal networks involves sharing intelligence with our European neighbours. We can better protect our borders in partnership with European nations, not by being out in the cold.

Consumers get lower roaming charges, cheap flights and better protections thanks to our membership of the EU.

There is also a patriotic case to be made. Our position in the world is enhanced, our influence is greater. Diplomatically and economically we punch above our weight and that is helped in large part by the EU.

Responsible debate is paramount. I fear, however, that we won’t get it. What I do know is that Britain should be engaged and leading in Europe not disengaged and waving goodbye.


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