Britain and the EU: We need a recovery that is built to last

At the heart of our campaign will be the link between UK jobs and our membership of the EU

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The Independent Online

The British economy went through a profound trauma in the Great Recession. Slowly but surely, we are starting to see the makings of our stronger economy and fairer society emerge from the wreckage that Labour left behind. Because we have taken the difficult decisions over the last three and half years, we can be more upbeat about the prospects for families and businesses up and down the country.

That is why we will stick to our plans to make sure this is a recovery that is built to last. Britain's place in Europe is important to the recovery. That's why the European elections in May will be fought on issues that are of direct relevance to families the length and breadth of Britain. 

At the heart of our campaign will be the link between UK jobs and our membership of the EU. A surge in anti-European sentiment in the Euro elections would send a shiver of doubt into the boardrooms of global companies that locate in Britain because we are a gateway to the EU single market.

Businesses are crystal clear in their message to those on the right who want Britain to exit. Leaving the EU would result in less investment, less jobs and less prosperity across the UK. The CBI recently said EU membership was worth up to £78bn to the UK economy; about £3,000 a year to every household and “overwhelmingly” best for business. Likewise, a recent survey of 400 members of manufacturers' organisation EEF found that 85 per cent would vote to remain in the union.

Carlos Ghosn, the CEO and Chairman of Nissan, whose plant in  Sunderland employs 6,500 workers recently said that a vote by the UK to leave the EU would require the Japanese company to “reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future”.

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As the Party of ‘IN’ Liberal Democrats have always understood that the best way for Britain to build a stronger economy in a fairer society is to be fully engaged with Europe.  The facts and figures speak for themselves. We export over 150 Billion pounds a year to the EU and we are Europe’s financial capital.  

While there is a huge need for reform of the EU any talk of an exit would be disastrous for businesses and jobs. At a time when the economy has turned the corner, we should be seizing opportunities to create jobs and growth by playing a leading role in the EU, not putting our recovery at risk by pulling out.

All that said, it has sometimes not been easy to translate the enormous benefits of membership of the EU in a way which relates more directly to voters.   This is where a recent report from South Bank University can play a constructive part in both the campaign and the overall European discussion.

The headline finding is startling – some 3.5 million UK jobs depend on Europe.  But more than that, the report maps out where those jobs are, Westminster parliamentary constituency by constituency.  Suddenly, the argument can be expressed in very local terms indeed.  People can now see the European elections and the wider ‘European Question’ through a different prism with a sharp focus on numbers of jobs in specific identifiable areas.

The authors make no claim that all these jobs would ‘disappear’ instantly should the UK leave Europe. But why on earth would we want to put any barriers or uncertainty in place that would threaten those jobs?

The Liberal Democrats set out in our 2010 manifesto that the time for a referendum is the next time treaty change occurs. We agreed that position across the coalition and have enshrined the guarantee of a referendum the next time treaty change occurs in statute. We believe that is the position we should stick to.

The fact that some senior Conservatives are arguing that Britain should vote to leave to the EU is already unsettling investors and threatening jobs and growth. Further pandering to anti-Europeans would be bad for the British economy. With Labour confused on Europe, and the Conservatives divided, only the Liberal Democrats will be campaigning at the European elections with an unambiguously pro-European message.

It’s in our national interest that the Euro 2014 campaign brings out the economic and jobs reality.  As the Party of ‘IN’, we’ll be relentlessly focussing on that economic and jobs argument, and that focus will be as local and as relevant as possible to every family and business in the country. Pro-Europeans in Britain have been too quiet for too long. Next year is an opportunity to make our argument heard, and the Liberal Democrats will make sure we take it.

Danny Alexander is the Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury Secretary