In Europe, In Work

There are many reasons why I believe Britain must stay in the European Union.

The peace and security Europe has enjoyed for nearly 70 years is partly a result of European nations working more closely together than ever before. As we commemorate the centenary of the First World War this year, for many people peace will be reason enough to stay in the EU.

But it’s also the safety and security we get in the UK, because of the close co-operation there now is on fighting crime across the European Union. Previously we relied on Interpol, but the level of co-operation there is far too limited and it’s no longer up to the job of tackling sophisticated globally organised crime. Fortunately, the EU’s Europol gives us much greater and more effective sharing of information and intelligence – on everything from terrorists to drug traffickers, from financial fraud to human traffickers.

Coupled with the European Arrest Warrant and EuroJust, we have dramatically enhanced the ability of British police to track down some of the most serious criminals – from murderers and rapists to armed robbers and drug barons – when they go abroad to try to escape justice. The outrageous “Costa del Crime”, where wicked villains lived it up in Spain immune from arrest, is now history.

And it’s also the ability of European nations to co-operate on issues like energy and climate change. By increasing our subsea electricity cables to France, Belgium, Norway and Ireland, we can improve Britain’s energy security and reduce people’s energy bills. That’s why, for example, I’m such a fan of the ElecLink project to run a new “interconnector” cable through the Channel Tunnel.

On climate change, Britain’s voice at the global talks is amplified many times. But as importantly we can persuade our European friends to be more ambitious in the actions they take to tackle global warming: last year, for example, I established the “Green Growth Group” of 15 European Ministers, from nations who share Britain’s view that we must act urgently on climate change. Through this, Britain is shaping much more ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reductions than people had expected, and helping to influence nations outside the EU too.

Jobs, jobs and jobs

Yet arguably the most immediate benefit of the EU for millions of British families is the economic advantage. From the trading benefits of Europe’s single market to the trading benefits securing stronger trade deals when negotiating with global players like the US, China and India, millions of jobs are at stake.

There are firms employing people here in the Royal Borough of Kingston which depend on Britain being in the European Union – British firms as well as the many firms from other countries who’ve invested in the UK because we are “in” and so are employing British people.

Of course, you will hear complaints about Brussels’ red tape. And we must tackle that. In fact, I have. As a Minister in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, I attended the European Council on Competitiveness. By engaging with other countries, I helped drive a strong pro-single market, pro-free trade and pro-deregulation agenda. At one council, thanks to close working with French and German colleagues, we secured the first ever derogation from a directive for “micro” firms (employing 9 people or less), benefiting Britain’s smallest firms by an estimated £400 million per annum. And there’s now, for the first time, a presumption that such small firms are excluded from future directives. For some reason, the press weren’t interested in reporting that.

Yet when people complain about the EU and Brussels, I often agree with them. Just as I often agree with people complaining about Westminster in the UK – or who complain about the Mayor of London or Kingston Council. All these forms of Governments – local, regional, national and European – all of them are imperfect. All of them were created by human beings. All represent the compromises and complexities of history passed down to today.

So whether it’s Brussels or Britain, Governments and organisations will forever need reform. The question is, are we better with imperfect Governments and imperfect forms of co-operation like the EU, all in need of reform – or are we better off with no Governments, and less co-operation?

In today’s interconnected world, you can’t cut yourself off. International co-operation is essential. You can’t keep international peace by yourself. You can’t trade by yourself. You can’t catch nation-hopping criminals by yourself. You can’t defeat international terrorism by yourself. You can’t stop global climate change by yourself.

A “stop the world I want to get off” hostility to all things European is a dangerous fantasy. It’s time Britain was more confident. Got in the middle of Europe’s debates. Shaped them and led them.