Time to stand up and be counted

The eurosceptics can smell blood.

While the Eurozone continues to flounder under the inadequacies of its political leaders, and the 27 member states fail to agree on the future EU budget, UKIP politicians, and many in the Tory party, spy an opportunity to further their life’s ambition of Britain going it alone, outside the European Union.

Meanwhile, the confused and dithering leadership of David Cameron encourages them.  Despite his earlier message to his party that they should not get bogged down in debates about Europe, that’s exactly what is happening.

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.

The Eurozone crisis has given greater impetus to some countries working together more closely.

But at the same time the situation has made that prospect of closer integration even less appealing for others. In difficult economic times, it’s always easier to blame outside influences, to distrust other people, and to hide under the bedclothes hoping it will all go away!

And even after all these years, the European Union, for so many people, remains mysterious, confusing and strange.

Yet, now more than ever, people across Britain need to stand up and be counted.  Ed Miliband did that in his recent speech to the CBI, making it absolutely clear that Britain’s interests lie within the EU, and it is important that he, as well as other leading Labour politicians, continue to make that case.

But it needs much more if the argument is to be won nationally.

Because, for too long, people in positions of power and influence have hidden from taking a stand and making it clear to others the importance of the UK remaining in Europe.

For a start, directors, chairmen and CEOs of major companies whose economic success depends on trading with Europe must tell their customers, their workforces and their shareholders exactly why the EU is essential to their well-being.

Bosses at multi-nationals need to make it absolutely clear that, if Britain were outside the European Union, their reasons for continuing to site their business in the UK would disappear and operations could move to another country which was inside the single market with its access to the world.

Trade union leaders must tell their members, not just how much their own jobs rely on EU membership, but crucially how many of their rights at work, from guaranteed holidays to health and safety protection, emanate from Europe.

Organisers and heads of major development charities and NGOs, concerned about development issues in the Third World, need to tell their subscribers, their donors and the public at large that, as the EU is a major donor in terms of development, as well as the key legislator in world trade which affects all countries in the world, positive involvement within the EU is vital.

It is time to play hard ball.  Quiet asides to civil servants, to customers, to business associates around the dinner table, to members, are no longer enough.

Public pronouncements and real commitment to get over the arguments for Britain’s key national interests need to be made now.  It’s time to stand up and be counted.

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