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Labour puts the EU at the heart of the general election campaign

Douglas Alexander MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, today (25/02) addressed an audience of UK business leaders on the importance of Britain’s place in Europe.   In an event hosted by the Centre for European Reform, he set out Labour’s approach to Europe and made the case that Europe remains as vital to Britain’s prosperity as NATO is to our security.   He urged British businesses to join in the debate in setting out the case for Britain to play a role at the heart of a reformed EU.

He also argued that David Cameron and George Osborne know the damage that EU exit bring, but are increasingly willing to contemplate it because of internal party political management priorities.   On the need for businesses to speak up about the risk of exit and benefits of membership, he said, “I think the next election could be the most decisive for Britain in a generation. The fate of our prosperity as a nation and our status as a European power are all at stake.”   He went on to say “There is too much to lose for any of us to just sit back and take a wait-and-see approach and that is true when it comes to Britain’s place in Europe. That is why last year I made a call to British businesses to find their voice alongside those politicians willing to speak up and speak out and make the case for Britain to play a leading role at the heart of a reformed EU.”   That doesn’t mean supporting one party over the other. It means supporting one vision of Britain over the alternative.

He condemned David Cameron for knowing the risks of exit but is willing to gamble with millions of jobs regardless.   He continued “At a time of falling living standards and with real wages dropping, walking away from the world’s largest single market could prove disastrous for our economy.    I know this may disappoint some of his own party, but there was little I could disagree with in David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in 2013. What I disagree with is his total lack of a strategy for delivering on the promise of that speech over two years later.”   Because the truth is that David Cameron and George Osborne have met with businesses like yours. They have travelled across the country to companies like this. And they have heard from employers the same thing I hear today.

The shadow foreign secretary also said “in the past there have been a number of member states who aligned with Britain on key economic and political issues within the EU, but under David Cameron that camp has dwindled, and I believe that’s both bad for Britain and bad for Europe. Don’t take Labour’s word for it – it was the former President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said Britain was previously “at the centre of decisions” but this was “no longer the case”.”     He outlined labour’s policy on the EU by saying “The right approach for Britain is not exit from Europe, it is reform in Europe. Europe is as vital to Britain’s prosperity as NATO is to our security. That is why, from day one in office, a newly elected Labour government would set about enhancing the UK’s influence in Europe and would review, repair, and re-set relations with other EU states.”

We know Europe needs to change. And we know how we want to change it.   We will work with Europe to give national parliaments more of a say in EU policy making as part of bigger reforms of the way Brussels operates and the way parliament scrutinises EU business.   But what we won’t do – as David Cameron has – is use Britain’s membership of Europe as a party management tool. His willingness to gamble with Britain’s place in Europe is already creating instability for British businesses.   Alexander accused the Conservatives of an approach that is “built on constantly shifting sands, which is adding to the risk and uncertainty for British business and jobs.

Boris Johnson’s recent comments are the latest in a long line of examples of Conservative politicians now using the issue of a referendum to jockey for position within his own party.   The very fact that Conservative politicians now seem more interested in talking about the possible date of a referendum, rather than about securing real change in Europe, shows that for them this debate is simply about securing exit.   It is irresponsible for David Cameron to play with Britain’s future in this way. The better approach for Britain is to argue for reform in Europe and work with others to achieve it, rather than threatening to leave, putting jobs and investment at risk.”

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