The EU Referendum will be the biggest vote in most Brit’s lifetime.
I pretty much made up my mind on how to vote while travelling in southern China a few years ago.
If British companies are going to succeed we need to work with our European partners to compete on fair terms and on a more equal basis with the biggest economies.
The Pearl River Delta covers 15,000 square miles and contains just a few cities: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Hong Kong, Foshan, Zhuhai and Macau. But in reality it is a mega-tropolis of 120 million people. And this is just a tiny fraction of China.
That is what we are up against. Our country needs to compete with this economically, be able to trade on fair terms with this and stand up for workers’ rights against this.
And anyone who believes that a country with a population half the size of the Pearl River Delta can do this, is sadly deluded in today’s globalised world.
But Europe can compete on this level. It can certainly negotiate better trade deals.
Some on the left believe that the TTIP trade treaty being negotiated between America and Europe is evil. In many ways it is.
But the deal we would get if we reduced our negotiating power from a market the size of Europe, to a market the size of a handful of States in North-Eastern US would be even worse.
And it wouldn’t just be the US that would give Britain a bad deal post-Brexit. China, India, south America and the African Union would all look at our isolation and realise they can strike for a stronger trade deal in their favour.
So we need Europe for business.
But we need Europe for so much more.
In the 1980’s the European institutions stood up to the worst excesses of right-wing social policy. Standing up for gay rights, parental leave and freedom of the press.
And securing vital wins for Thalidomide victims and child protection. The EU’s other achievements include better environmental protections, support for deprived areas of the UK (such as €600 million funding for Cornwall and investment strategies for the Coventry area, places close to my heart) and consumer rights – such as faster switching of energy firms and lower consumer prices due to no trade tariffs.
And Europe continues to be the ultimate safeguard to what Gordon Brown has described as British values of fairness, equality and diversity.
However, there is no doubt that the European Union itself is far from perfect.
There is a democratic deficit with unelected commissioners, there are levels of waste (especially with the Strasbourg move) and at the moment the Parliament is under the rule of the pro-austerity right.
So this is where a vote to remain is only the start.
There are already movements in other European countries to improve democracy in the EU. We need to support these and build cross party support for them in the UK.
But Europe IS a democracy. And the way to overturn EU austerity – or any other policy you disagree with – is to be part of building a movement across Europe. There is nothing inherent in the EU that commits it to any policies, they are all ideological choices of the parties represented in Parliament and they can be changed.
If you want to change Europe – and benefit from the trade, consumer rights and civil justice safeguards – participate in it. We need to campaign harder for European election wins, we need a higher quality of candidates to stand to be MEPs and we need to forge closer relationships with like-minded citizens across Europe to stand up to the views we oppose.
You don’t win any battles by walking away.
So please vote remain.
And if none of the other reasons convince you, just remember how much cheaper it is to send messages and call from our European holidays and travels this summer thanks to the EU. That’s got to be worth a few votes?