It seems evident that the United Kingdom should stay as close as possible to the European Union. Indeed, my preferred option (like that of the now 52 per cent who said in a recent poll they preferred now to stay in the EU) is that the UK stays in the European Union, or at least in the single market and the customs union, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, leaving will be extremely costly and disruptive economically, having negative effects on jobs, incomes, living standards and investment. Furthermore, the energy and money wasted on leaving could be far better used for building a better and fairer Britain. This is understood clearly, for example by the TUC, which has urged the UK to stay in the single market.
But the value of staying in the EU, or at least in the single market and the customs union, is far broader than economic impacts, very important as they are. This seems especially significant in an uncertain world, where for example the impact of the Trump presidency, implies a lack of US leadership on key global issues, such as climate change.
The UK can yield greater influence, politically and economically worldwide, if it is part of a far larger bloc, the EU; by merging sovereignty, countries actually gain a stronger sovereignty, to face regional or global problems. Especially during a Labour government the UK can project important values of international solidarity and peace far more effectively, to influence much needed international action.
The UK is geographically part of Europe, and especially of its great cultural heritage, as well as many of its positive values, such as democracy, respect of human rights and welfare state. Where the EU has made mistakes, like in the imposition of austerity on southern European countries, the UK should play a key role in helping reversing that.
An example of essential action, both in the EU and internationally, is the pursuit of the achievement of global public goods, such as mitigating climate change. This is absolutely crucial and urgent, as we only have one planet! Such initiatives can only be successful, if carried out with international partners, in other countries, blocs like the EU itself and international bodies such as the United Nations, which plays a key role. The intensity of natural disasters has already increased, as a result of climate change, as shown for example most probably by the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean, and South Asia, which have been so destructive of lives and livelihood. There is no time to lose.
The UK can play a leading role in helping mitigate climate change, together with international partners, in key concrete aspects, such as helping mobilizing funds, both public and private for financing the investment needed to achieve the necessary and urgent structural transformation to the green economy. A Labour government could use not just aid, but its’ soon to be created British Investment Bank, (an excellent initiative), working closely with the publicly owned European Investment Bank, to help mobilize and leverage financial resources not just domestically but internationally. The City of London, and especially potentially long term investors, such as pension funds and insurance companies, need to be mobilized to channel resources to this crucial green investment, both private and public.
Other very important Labor economic initiatives, such as the broadening of the stamp duty, also known as the Robin Hood tax, which shadow chancellor John McDonnell is championing, will be valuable at UK level. But how much more valuable and what greater impact, if they become implemented first at EU level, and then internationally, especially if there is a progressive government in the US!
Another important area, where a Labour government needs to play a key international role is in the fight for inclusive, sustainable and dynamic development for the rest of the world. Though the Tory governments have been good, in increasing aid, they have used it often in a biased way, which furthered domestic private interests and had an ideological slant. A Labour development policy should aim to support development in the rest of the world, respecting national preferences, and promoting especially the interests of the poorer members of society. This needs to be done not only through aid, but also through trade, technological transfer and other policies.
The achievement of more dynamic and inclusive growth is not just valuable for the people in poorer countries themselves, which is of course the main objective, but may reduce the pressure for poor people to migrate in search of a better life in developed countries, choosing instead to stay in their home countries. Greater prosperity in those countries will also hopefully contribute to less conflict in them and amongst countries, thus leading to greater peace and prosperity.
Stephany Griffith-Jones will speak at our event with FEPS on Britain, Europe and the World at Labour party conference in Brighton on Tuesday 26 September.