Pat McFadden: The Case for Staying in the EU Goes Beyond the Deal

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European Union and British flags in London. The U.K.’s Brexit debate is beginning in earnest. Toby Melville/Reuters

The renegotiation documents on British membership of the EU published on Tuesday by European Council President Donald Tusk are the culmination of months of work involving the U.K. government, other EU member states and the EU institutions.

Prime Minister David Cameron set out four key areas for discussion in his letter to Mr. Tusk late last year. These were the provisions in the EU treaty on ever closer union, European competitiveness, the rights of national parliaments, and the relationship between free movement of people and national benefits and social security systems.

Mr. Tusk’s documents cover all four of these areas and give the prime minister much of what he wanted, but that does not mean the case for continued U.K. membership of the EU should begin and end with these four issues.

There is a much bigger and broader case for continued British membership of the EU which the renegotiation does not cover.

It says nothing, for example, about British access to the EU’s single market, which enables British firms to export tariff free and on the basis of common rules and standards to a market of 500 million people.

It says nothing about the EU employment rights which give British workers important protections such as guaranteed paid leave, equal rights for part-time workers and fair pay for agency workers.

And the renegotiation is silent on the important peace and security aspects of EU membership which have helped prevent conflict in Europe for decades and stand as a stark contrast to the aggression and violence being witnessed beyond the EU’s shores.

There is nothing the prime minister could have negotiated that would satisfy the determined campaigners for British exit from the EU on the Conservative back benches. Their cries of condemnation of the negotiating package were prepared long in advance.

But for those of us who want Britain to stay in, the battle is now on. The outcome of this referendum campaign will say a huge amount about how Britain sees itself and how it sees its place in the world.  It must be a battle of both values and interests. The economic case is central but so too is the idea that we cooperate with others to meet the challenges of the modern world, rather than retreating into nationalism.

Europe faces real challenges at the moment, both economically and over the refugee crisis. It is the easiest thing in the world in the face of such challenges to say we should walk away, pull up the drawbridge and hope we can make it all go away. But that is not the leadership needed right now.

The Labour Party decided early to campaign unambiguously to stay in the EU precisely because we saw there was a broader case, well beyond the terms of the renegotiation. Some of the items emphasized by Mr. Cameron were also in our own manifesto, so unlike some of the Conservative backbenchers we do not regard the exercise as worthless, even if we do regard it as incomplete.

The task now is to build support for a vote to stay in the EU. A Britain that is outward looking, positive about its role in the world, and confident in its abilities to shape change can play a leading role in making Europe more prosperous and competitive and can work with others to resolve the very real challenges Europe faces. That’s what we should be aiming for in the coming referendum.

Pat McFadden is co-chair of the Labour In group of MPs and a former shadow Europe minister.