The conservative enemy has to be defeated: Britain's future is in Europe

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Indy Politics

NOW IS the right time to make the case for Britain in Europe. In the Seventies when Britain joined the common market, the British people considered the alternatives and chose peace and prosperity in Europe. But now, in the Nineties, the case for Britain in Europe has to be remade.

NOW IS the right time to make the case for Britain in Europe. In the Seventies when Britain joined the common market, the British people considered the alternatives and chose peace and prosperity in Europe. But now, in the Nineties, the case for Britain in Europe has to be remade.

Some, who voted for entry in the Seventies, remain to be convinced that Europe will make Britain stronger, not weaker. They want to know that Britain in Europe means jobs and prosperity in Britain, that Europe can reform, that Britain in Europe does not mean choosing between Europe and America and that Europe is not to be a federal super state.

If Britain is to play a leading role in Europe's future, if Britain is to be confident and to be at ease with its place in the world, their questions cannot simply be dismissed. They must be answered.

That is why we believe it is time for the case for Europe to be restated from first principles; time for all who believe in Britain in Europe to speak up for Britain in Europe.

This is even more important today because the country's main opposition party now seeks to renegotiate our membership of the European Union and is, as a result, ready to leave it. In May and June, they took Conservative European policy to new extremes by calling for fresh opt-outs from European laws and a renegotiation of the Amsterdam Treaty. Last week they went further and committed their party to a fundamental renegotiation of the Treaty of Rome and to veto the next European Treaty if they don't get their way.

To threaten to veto the next European Treaty is to threaten to veto enlargement and, as Chris Patten said yesterday, to renege on our moral duty to bring in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

And in the Nineties, as it was with Labour in the Eighties, renegotiation is code for withdrawal. The Conservative Party that took Britain into the European Community now threatens to take Britain out of it.

Britain in Europe, launched today, will be exactly what it says it is - arguing the case for Britain in Europe. And today people of all parties will come together to argue the case that Europe is where we are, where we do business and where our future belongs. On the single currency, the Government has already set out our position and there is no change. We have set five economic tests - on jobs, investment, financial services, flexibility and convergence - tests that must be met. Then the people would have their say in a referendum. It would simply be against our British national economic interest to close the door and repeat mistakes of the past.

Britain in Europe will now deal issue by issue, allegation by allegation, with each claim made by the anti-Europeans.

We will demonstrate that a policy of renegotiation (and if you lose, leave) is counter-productive to British interests, will be damaging to investment and jobs, and must be firmly resisted. We will argue that there is a powerful case for reform in Europe and indeed we have been doing so since May 1997 - but to confuse it with the case for withdrawal is to sacrifice the national economic interest on the altar of dogma.

Most businessmen will tell you that a policy of moving from full participation to loose association with Europe would hurt trade, deter inward investment, and disadvantage the City. When, in 1983, the then Labour opposition put renegotiation and leaving on the agenda, the CBI reported that leaving Europe would put 2.5 million jobs at risk. That was when 44 per cent of our exports went to EU members. Now it is 53 per cent. By the same logic, nearer 3.5 million jobs would be affected. Why? Because being in Europe gives us access to a market of 380 million consumers and potentially millions more following enlargement. Even now, the EU accounts for 20 per cent of world output.

The idea that Europe's future lay only in a loose free trade area was the British illusion of the Fifties, one that we eventually had to admit would not work when we moved on from membership of EFTA [the European Free Trade Area] alone to membership of the common market. Today, no other European country would consider throwing away the benefits of a single market - and the institutions that make it work. Nor would it give up the clout that a 350 million strong trading area gives us in world negotiations. Isolationism would reduce the power we have to push for open markets in our most important trading areas.

Nor are the benefits simply economic. The founding treaties outlaw discrimination on grounds of race, sex or belief. This has produced a series of court judgements on equal pay and conditions for men and women doing the same work. The EU has passed legislation to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution throughout the continent.

The idea that we have to choose between Europe and the US is a myth. We are stronger with the US because we are in Europe, and a bridge between the two. It is clear that Britain in Europe enjoys greater success in America and elsewhere than Britain apart from Europe ever would. Today Britain is the leading destination of inward investment from America, as well as Asia, to Europe. This generated 55,000 jobs in Britain last year alone. Only a dogmatist would claim that overseas investment comes to Britain in spite of Europe rather than because of it. American investors are not telling us to come and join NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. Investors are telling us they invest in Britain in part to get access to the world's largest market.

We are of course the first to argue that Europe needs to reform. The single market and the euro are catalysing that process. With our proposal for action plans on labour, capital and product markets now being implemented, Britain is in the lead with our programme of economic reform.

Eurosceptics should support rather than disparage this reform agenda which will make for a stronger Britain. Of course we readily agree that if Britain were to have imposed on us by Europe a return to the Sixties and Seventies style corporatism and inflexibility which we have left behind then Britain would be weakened. But, despite what the Conservatives allege, there is now evidence across Europe that there are alliances for change that can be built as our economic reform agenda gains ground. Nor do we believe that Britain's institutions and our traditional way of life are in danger of being submerged by Europe, any more than the French or Germans believe their identify will be. It is after all, in part, British policies that are now leading in the reform of Europe.

It was perhaps inevitable that the end of the Cold War would see a reassessment of Britain's role in the world. A reappraisal postponed at the time the empire ended. But when people asked where our post-imperial, post Cold War role lay, it was all too convenient for Eurosceptics to evade the question and simply define being pro-British as being anti-European.

The truth is that Britain is stronger in the world if it is strong in Europe. It is not a question of Britain being submerged in Europe, but to what extent we want Britain - and British values - to lead in Europe. You can't lead in Europe if you opt-out of the debate, as Britain has so many times in the past.

That is why the decision Britain made in the Seventies was the right one then and is the right one now. Britain is in Europe - and in Europe to stay.