“It usually befalls the foreigner to explain to the natives what they have and what they are about to lose,” says Labour’s German-born MP Gisela Stuart – the unlikely new head of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.
It is a powerful sentiment from a woman who only moved to Britain in 1974 – a year before the UK’s first referendum on Europe.
In her first interview since being named chair of Vote Leave, the Brexit campaign group backed by Boris Johnson, Ms Stuart reveals how she feels a “duty” to reassure ordinary voters they are not “bad” people for being worried about the EU.
“There is this idea that if you are liberal and internationalist and outward looking and educated and ... a good person then you must be pro Europe. If you’re not, you’re saying things about yourself which are inward looking, a little Englander and all those kind of things.
“I just thought that unless people like me actually do stand up and say, no, this is about options – both of which are equally outward looking – then I think we diminish the range of the debate.”
She says that, unlike many European countries, Britain does not need Brussels to escape the “narrow nationalism” which has blighted the Continent.
“A lot of continental countries stuck for a very long time with this nationality principle based on bloodlines,” she says. In contrast: “For 300 years, these isles had a supranational identity – being British.” Few countries have that, she adds, which is why to “a lot of Europeans – and the Germans in particular – being European is so important”.
She rejects any suggestion that Britain will become a hostile place for foreigners after a vote to leave. In fact, Ms Stuart believes many of the concerns about European immigration are reasonable.
“When my Pakistani newspaper man, who has spent the last 40 years of his life getting up at 5am, has a problem getting in his mother for a family wedding, but finds a Bulgarian taxi driver can claim child benefit for children who are not even here, it’s very easy to say, this is racism, but they cannot understand why the bias is to a particular place in the world which they find it difficult to have an allegiance to.”
What has the EU ever done for us?
What has the EU ever done for us?
1/7 1. It gives you freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe
As a member of the EU, UK citizens benefit from freedom of movement across the continent. Considered one of the so-called four pillars of the European Union, this freedom allows all EU citizens to live, work and travel in other member states.
2/7 2. It sustains millions of jobs
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, released in October 2015, suggested 3.1 million British jobs were linked to the UK’s exports to the EU.
3/7 3. Your holiday is much easier - and safer
Freedom to travel is one of the most exercised benefits of EU membership, with Britons having made 31 million visits to the EU in 2014 alone. But a lot of the benefits of being an EU citizen are either taken for granted or go unnoticed.
4/7 4. It means you're less likely to get ripped off
Consumer protection is a key benefit of the EU’s single market, and ensures members of the British public receive equal consumer rights when shopping anywhere in Europe.
5/7 5. It offers greater protection from terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber-crime
Another example of a lesser-known advantage of EU membership is the benefit of cross-country coordination and cooperation in the fight against crime.
6/7 6. Our businesses depend on it
According to 71% of all members of the Confederation of British Influence (CBI), and 67 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the EU has had an overall positive impact on their business.
7/7 7. We have greater influence
Robin Niblett, Director of think-tank Chatham House, stated in a report published last year: “For a mid-sized country like the UK, which will never again be economically dominant either globally or regionally, and whose diplomatic and military resources are declining in relative terms, being a major player in a strong regional institution can offer a critical lever for international influence.
Ms Stuart believes there are more dangers in remaining in the EU than in leaving. “A yes vote also has consequences. It will mean that we, the British people, have just democratically endorsed a structure and a political construct which, if there is one thing you can say is consistent, it goes for deeper political integration.”
Ms Stuart is one of just a handful of Labour MPs who support UK withdrawal. Privately, many believe her leader Jeremy Corbyn is another.
At the moment, she believes he is being loyal to the party ahead of May’s elections, but, tantalisingly, suggests this could change. “I don’t know what happens after that, but at the moment I think he just feels he owes a loyalty to the mainstream of his MPs.”
Vote Leave has confirmed that the Education Secretary Michael Gove will “co-convene” the campaign to quit the EU, alongside Ms Stuart.Reuse content