Glenis Willmott - Why Labour must fight for the future of our country
Ahead of Cameron's much awaited speech on Britain's role in Europe, Labour's leader in the European Parliament Glenis Willmott MEP says it’s time to make the patriotic case for Britain in Europe.
Never mind “winter of discontent”, the Tories have had a whole year of it as far as Europe is concerned.
As Conservative Vice Chairman Michael Fabricant moots an electoral pact with UKIP, Cameron is rumoured to be shifting his views, and every other Tory is weighing in with an opinion, with heir-apparent Boris Johnson managing to offer two at the same time, taking political opportunism to an ever higher plane.
Meanwhile, amidst growing grumbles from the shires, the UKIP bandwagon rolls on, attracting as much as 14% in the polls.
The last couple of weeks of 2012 saw an even greater frenzy, the continuation of the unseemly and unsightly brawl within the Tory Party about Britain and the European Union.
But it’s a struggle that is more about the internal divisions on the right wing of British politics, rather than the interests of the country.
And it would be a mistake to sit back and rejoice, in the hope that the Conservative splits on Europe which brought down John Major’s government, and ensured Tory defeats in subsequent elections, will once again re-emerge as fatal wounds.
There are increasing indications that we’re heading for a European crossroads sometime soon. It’s not just the “referendum-now-and-forever-until-we-win-it” brigade, who, like death and taxes, will always be with us. Even more sober-minded citizens believe that the UK, whether via a referendum or not, will have a major decision to make sometime in the next few years.
And that decision will determine Britain’s prosperity for a generation at least.
This is why Labour must once again make what Douglas Alexander has described as the patriotic case for Britain’s place in the EU. We have to point out exactly why it is in our national interest to be fully engaged with our partners in Europe. Above all we have to make it perfectly clear that those advocating withdrawal are actually guilty of betraying our country’s interests.
The launch of a new booklet by Labour’s MEPs at Labour Party Conference earlier in the autumn is a key contribution to making this case.
Entitled “With or without the EU – five reasons why it’s better for Britain”, it points out that we are living through “a period of unprecedented change in global power and influence. To ensure a prosperous future for Britain we must face up to the new global realities in the way that is best for Britain.”
On these issues, standing alone, Britain’s voice and influence are limited. “But as a leading voice, shaping the direction of the European Union of 27 countries, the British voice can be heard and our national interests can be protected.”
The debate about Britain and Europe must not be the monopoly of the Tory right-wing and their narrow self-interests. They cannot be allowed to hijack an issue of such national importance.
Glenis Willmott is leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party
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