Alan Johnson speech from Labour IN Launch

01 December 2015

“By this time next year the British people may well have taken the most profound political decision of my lifetime.

“I’m now of an age where, rather depressingly, what I call my youth is referred to by others as social history. I can remember voting in the European referendum 40 years ago in my tank top and flares.

“That was, in effect, a decision on whether to join a European Community of only nine member states in a pre-globalisation age before the World Trade Organisation had come into existence, let alone the Channel Tunnel.

“To leave a European Union of 28 member states after 40 years of increasing independence across the globe would in my view be a much bigger disaster for our country – particularly as it’s highly likely that if Britain leaves the EU, Scotland will leave Britain.

“It’s worth remembering what Europe looked like 40 years ago with military rule only just ending in Greece and Portugal, Spain still in the grip of Franco’s authoritarian nationalism and in the East, an entire bloc of countries under the totalitarian heel of the Soviet Union.

“Is it any wonder that for most of our European partners the Union is more than the sum of its parts- a continent at war, transformed to a continent at peace, oligarchies becoming democracies without a shot being fired; prosperity in countries that had known nothing but poverty. These noble ideals won’t win a referendum where the focus will be on prose rather poetry, but we must never forget the role that the EU has played in the recent history of our continent.

“I have been asked to lead the Labour In for Britain campaign for our country to remain in the EU- no ifs, no buts, no maybes. A principled campaign, free of manufactured machinations, calculated self-interest or political double speak. Standing firm for what we think is in the best interests of the British people and also happens to be in complete accord with our values, our principles and our policies. 

“That campaign starts now, not at some unspecified time in the future determined by David Cameron.

“And not because we believe that the EU is a perfect institution - it’s not; such a thing doesn’t exist; and not because we want to preserve the status quo; we don’t - we want to see change but reform is a process not an event. And the way to achieve reform is through being committed, using patient argument, building alliances, playing our part - not sulking near the exit door muttering threats and insults.

“The trade unions are right to warn the Prime Minister that if he opts this country out of regulations protecting British workers he runs an even bigger risk of losing the referendum. The social dimension needs to be enhanced not diminished.

“The fact is however that the referendum is not going to be on whatever deal that the Prime Minister negotiates: it will be on our continuing membership of the EU.

“And the only way to restore any rights the Tories opt out of is to get rid of this Government and opt back in.

“There is no progressive case for leaving the EU. It will do nothing to resolve the problems in Greece where they don’t want to leave the Eurozone let alone the EU. It will do nothing to resolve the refugee crisis, although it will incidentally make our borders less secure, and it won’t improve the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership one iota. Walking away solves nothing for our movement or our country.

“Which of our causes will it serve, which of our objectives will it meet to turn our backs on Europe? What message will it send about how Britain sees its role in the world? And what does Britain look like outside the EU? Are we hoping to become the 51st State of America? An offshore free-market Hong Kong? A nation returned to a sepia-tinted world of the 1950s that never actually existed. From Great Britain to Little England. There is nothing patriotic about condemning our country to isolation.

“Who will gain from our departure? Certainly not British workers, or businesses, or consumers. Certainly not our universities, or our scientists. All will be damaged and diminished along with our environment and our security.

“And that is our security.

“The first duty of any government is to keep our country safe and I firmly believe that leaving the EU would leave our country less secure.

“From the European Arrest Warrant to cross-border data-sharing on terrorists, the speed of our response is vital and the lesson from Paris is clear: to tackle terrorism we must stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in Europe. The security of Britain is inextricably linked to the deep co-operation that membership of the EU provides.

“We must not cut ourselves off from cross-border efforts to tackle terrorism, keep our country secure and our people protected.

“And with challenges like the refugee crisis and Russian aggression on the EU’s borders, Britain is stronger when working with our allies, committed to peace, democracy and international law.

“This campaign won’t be won by politicians lecturing from on high- it will be won by local people campaigning in every community throughout the land. Labour has the reach, we have the foot soldiers and the organisational ability.

“When this vote comes, it will be a choice between staying in the European Union or leaving and Labour will defend the rights of working people, by campaigning to keep Britain in Europe.

“And what we are fighting for is consistent with two principles that have driven our movement from Keir Hardie’s Labour Representation Committee onwards. The principles of internationalism and solidarity.

“So I need your help after this event, to work in your constituencies to help build our campaign to stand up for Britain.

“It’s the right thing for our country, the right thing for our party, that’s why Labour’s campaign to remain in the EU starts today.”

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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