While we may not know the date of the upcoming referendum on our membership of the European Union, we do know we will all have to make up our minds over the next 12 months. And polling seems to suggest that the public are evenly split on whether to leave or stay, with a third stating that they are unsure.
This includes millions of Labour voters, who will be crucial in determining the result – and I’m tired of people thinking that only those on the right of politics are Eurosceptic. This is far from true.
The reputation of the EU has fallen sharply among many on the Left. The sight of the EU establishment imposing unprecedented levels of austerity on Greece was a real wake-up call. This was not a benign political institution guaranteeing social protection and international solidarity, but an unaccountable force bringing crippling pain on a people who cannot hope to repay the loans that are recapitalising their banks.
Meanwhile, the EU is willing to require ever-greater sacrifice to living standards in order to keep the Euro and the wider European “Project” moving forwards. Ever closer Union is what is on the tin - and even if the words are removed to satisfy the Prime Minister, the contents will still be the same.
The Labour Party has traditionally had a sceptical view of the European institutions. From Attlee to Foot, and until the late 1980s, Labour was predominantly Eurosceptic – but then, following three Thatcher victories, many on the Left looked desperately to Europe to block her policies. Wise Labour voices like Peter Shore and Tony Benn, however, argued that democratic faith in the wisdom of the public was a better guarantor than the benevolence of transitory political elites. They have been proved right as the EU is no longer motivated by Jacques Delors’ ‘Social Europe’, but is increasingly out of touch with the needs of its people.
Familiar voices try to scare us into believing that leaving the EU would ruin the UK, but these are the same people who told us that we had to join the Euro or face disaster. We stayed out of the Euro and have therefore been spared much of the chaos of that unsustainable currency - but we still give £7.3 billion net a year of our money to the EU.
How can we protect civil liberties when the EU forces on us unaccountable extraditions through the European Arrest Warrant? How can we ensure the jobs and growth that we need when vital contracts for work go to preferred bidders on the continent and not to British firms? How can we preserve and improve our public services when the Services Directives help force the privatisation of the Royal Mail and EU rules against state aid will make it almost impossible to renationalise the railways? TTIP is a gift to the multi-national corporations. I don't trust the EU to negotiate on our behalf, and I certainly don't trust it to be on the side of small businesses or Trade Unions.
The Labour Party is looking at radical policies to tackle the problems in our country. We need to take back real control from the unelected and unaccountable European Commission if we are to have a chance of implementing any of these. The votes of the Left cannot be taken for granted in this referendum: there is now a strong Trade Unionists Against the EU campaign, and around the country, grassroots campaigners are speaking out. Labour Leave may be in a minority within the PLP, but then so was support for Jeremy Corbyn.
I have never felt so optimistic about our chances of winning the referendum. In the event of a Brexit, we can trade and co-operate with other European countries not involved with the EU, and reach out globally, particularly to the bloc of Commonwealth countries in Asia. We face a great opportunity if we leave. We can stop being Little Europeans and become Internationalists again.
Kate Hoey MP is Co -Chair of Labour Leave along with Graham Stringer MP and Kelvin Hopkins MP
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