Proof positive for Europe

Julie Ward asks why did we stay silent on the benefits of being an EU member for so long?

The British debate on Brexit centred on the dangers of leaving the EU. Indeed, we know that the cost of Brexit to the UK economy is already £66bn whilst Johnson’s bad “deal” would lead to an annual loss of income of £2,000 per head, after 10 years.

However, whilst being honest about the impact, we must make the positive case for continuing membership of the EU. If we can secure a confirmatory referendum, a positive campaign is the only way forward to unite the country. As Cicero wrote in 64 BC: “There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favours, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people.”

Being an MEP since 2014 I have experienced first-hand the common cause we share with 500m other citizens and that must be front and centre of why remaining is the best option for everyone.

The EU is first and foremost a peace project. It was born out of the ashes of two World Wars. As Churchill said, “there must be an act of faith in the European family”. This act of faith is the European Union, and since its foundation we have now seen the longest period of peace in Europe for over 2,000 years.

The original Treaty of the European Union states in its first Article that it stands for a “society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”. We are living through unprecedented and uncertain political times. The only way to tackle the issues and injustices we now face, such as climate change, must be at a pan-European level.

Following the global climate protests, we now see climate change at the top of the agenda of the new European Parliament and the Commission. President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has promised that the European Green Deal must become Europe’s hallmark. She has much to prove, but the EU already sets standards way above most member states when it comes to environmental protection.

The EU has already ensured legislation to cut its emissions substantially – by 80-95% compared to 1990 levels. This includes boosting the EU’s 2030 emissions target from a 40% reduction to at least 50%. There will also be a priority to legislate for the first European Climate Law within the new Commission’s first 100 days of office.

One of the EU’s four freedoms is the ability we now have to travel and work in 28 countries without visa and immigration restrictions. EU citizens can live, work, study and start a business within the area. This has brought down barriers and has created prosperity alongside peace. (Many also fall in love, marry and have children, developing families and friendships that transcend national boundaries.)

We are no longer the sick man of Europe. Thanks to our membership of the world’s largest trading bloc with over 500 million consumers, representing 23% of global GDP, the UK is now the fifth-largest economy in the world. In 2018, UK exports to the EU were £289 billion (46% of all UK exports). UK imports from the EU were £345 billion (54% of all UK imports). Our membership fee for frictionless trade costs us 0.4% of GDP, which is less than an eighth of the UK’s defence spending. The UK cannot replace such a substantial loss with Free Trade Agreements, and standing alone we will have reduced bargaining power.

The EU urges a closer union of the ‘peoples’ of Europe and from my own experience working in the arts I have seen first-hand the positive benefits of exchange programmes (eg. Erasmus+) for the most excluded young people, including NEETS and those with disabilities.

We are also bound and protected by the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the most vulnerable in our society, as well as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees EU-based protections in employment, equality, and privacy.

There is so much more the EU does through collaboration that affects our daily lives, whether through research and innovation, security agreements and the right to receive emergency healthcare in any member state through the EHIC card. New EU legislation addressing corporate tax evasion is due to be implemented on January 1st, 2020.

It is regrettable that we needed to go through such a divisive process of self-harm in order to realise what we risk losing. All current polling suggests the country has changed its mind and if given a chance would vote against Brexit.

Now is the time to champion what it is to be not only British, but European. We are not isolationists, we are internationalists – those values are worth fighting for.

Julie Ward

Julie Ward is a Labour MEP for North West England.