Below is the text of the speech made by Alan Johnson on 22 February 2016.
It’s great to be here in Airbus to see the work you’re doing and to talk about our country’s future. Aerospace is a huge wealth creator for the UK worth around 28 billion pounds a year and supporting 109, 000 highly skilled jobs.
I was the aerospace minister twelve year ago when I learnt a great deal about the importance of countries working together to deliver substantial manufacturing projects. Indeed the original Airbus mission statement described its purpose as “strengthening European co-operation in the field of aviation technology and thereby promoting economic and technological progress in Europe.” You are fulfilling that noble objective magnificently, not just in producing planes but in your work on helicopters and indeed through the European Space Agency which I understand you’ve put ten people into space.
This is a historic week in British politics and it sets us up for the biggest political decision of my lifetime.
Bigger, I think, than the European referendum of 1975.
Now that the theatrics of the Brussels late-night deals, bi-lateral meetings and the constitutional necessity of us to fall out with the French are over, it’s worth considering the scale and size of the decision that faces the British public this June.
I believe this is a more important decision even that a General Election and much wider too than the package that the Prime Minister has negotiated. The referendum will be on one question – do we remain or do we leave the European Union? Bremain or Brexit to use the shorthand.
There is so much at stake for each British family. Their future prosperity, security and well-being will be at the core of the debate over the coming months. But in addition Britain’s place in the world will be on that ballot paper.
Forty one years ago, when the last referendum was held, I was a twenty five year old postman living on a council estate and trying to assess what would be best for my young family.
I voted ‘yes’ as a statement of the kind of country I wanted Britain to be, outward facing, trading with the world and open to new opportunities but mainly I was thinking of my children’s future.
I’ve never regretted that decision. The leave side say that Britain is a successful economy, the fifth biggest in the world and that is of course true. But strangely enough they never equate our success with membership of the EU even though they claim that it has disproportionate influence over our country.
This referendum matters, because ultimately, this is both a personal decision taken in each home and it’s a national decision embracing that wider debate about what kind of country we want to be.
Put bluntly, the question which faces us is what’s best for me and what’s best for my country?
Remarkably, though the world has changed dramatically since 1975, the arguments for staying in Europe, ring just as true as they did then. The Yes leaflet that I had to deliver through every door on my round said that being in Europe:
“offers the best framework for success, the best protection for our standard of living, the best foundation for greater prosperity. If we left, we would not go back to the world as it was, still less to the old days of Britain’s imperial heyday. And the changes that have made things more difficult and more dangerous for this country.”
Those words are just as relevant today except that in 1975 there were only 9 member states, now there are 28. Countries are much more interdependent and in 1975 we didn’t face the rise of militant Islam, the huge global population shifts or the realisation that climate change threatens the very existence of our planet.
Labour’s starting point, in this referendum is jobs and work.
We’re here today in Airbus, one of Europe’s great manufacturers.
An employer that provides jobs and skills to young people, pays good wages, manufactures high quality products, and spends around 2.1 billion with more than 1,000 suppliers in the UK.
For industries like Airbus to survive and thrive, they need collaboration across the European market. You are more aware than anybody of the need to move freely between Britain and the continent, you do it on a regular basis without visas and in the same way that well over a million Brits are able to live and work in other EU states. manufacturers need access to the single market so that they have more customers to sell to.
That single market, now consists of 550 Million consumers and is the largest commercial market in the world, bigger than the US, bigger than China.
It’s an amazing achievement of European vision and political skill to have built an economic block which started as a steel and coal agreement between France and Germany and has blossomed into the world’s largest trading area.
And Britain has always been a pioneer in opening up that market, because we are a trading and exporting nation and this great European market buys half of Britain’s exports. Eight out of ten of our top export markets are in the EU.
That’s why our manufacturing sector needs Britain to be playing a leading role in the European Union.
Just yesterday the Engineering Employers federation announced that 82 per cent of their members see no sense in the UK cutting itself off from its major market.
For British companies, British GDP and British exports, a decision to leave the European Union would be hugely damaging. It really would be a leap in the dark, at a time when countries should be working more closely together. Britain alone could be walking off into splendid isolation.
All that trade, all those exports, keep people in work. They translate into jobs that rely on a Britain playing its part in Europe.
Two thirds of British jobs in manufacturing are dependent on demand from Europe.
That’s two thirds of our manufacturing base reliant on that single market access and Britain’s membership of the EU.
That’s over one and half million manufacturing jobs here in Britain. If we’re serious about gradually re-focusing our economy more towards making things, upon which there is cross party consensus we need to remain in Europe. Turning specifically to apprentices in the manufacturing sector, and I’m pleased to see some of you here today, around 50,000 apprentices depend on trade linked to our EU membership.
That’s 50 000 manufacturing apprenticeships dependent on our EU membership that leaving the EU could put at risk.
For each one of those apprentices, gaining skills, earning a good wage and working towards a career, this referendum will be crucial. We can’t let them down by turning our back on the world and cutting British manufacturing and industry off from their largest export market.
As well as jobs, Europe provides rights and protections in work places across the EU.
I know you’re a Unite workplace and I look forward to campaigning with your union in the Remain campaign.
When Labour took office in 1997, we opted into something called the Social Chapter, which gave working people decent basic minimum standards, like rights to four weeks paid leave, rights for part-time workers to get the same hourly rate as full-time agency workers to be treated fairly, paid maternity and paternity leave, anti-discrimination laws, and protections when companies change ownership.
There are those who want Britain to leave Europe because they want to destroy those rights. They deride them as “red tape”. They have the fundamentally unpatriotic ambition of turning Britain into an off shore, anything goes, race to the bottom kind of country where workers have few rights and little protection.
That’s why in this campaign, we’ll continue the proud Labour tradition of campaigning for Britain in Europe, because it’s good for British jobs and good for the men and women who work in those jobs.
But what about the alternative, what would a Britain outside the European Union look like?
· A Britain attempting to negotiate its way back into the single market which we helped to create. Spending time and treasure frantically trying to get back to the position we’re in now;
· A Britain still subject to every law that governs that market but without any say;
· A Britain still subject to free movement requirements, if we follow the route Norway and Switzerland;
· A Britain still paying into the EU budget with no say over how it is spent;
· A Britain scrabbling around trying to patch together deals to tackle cross border crime and terrorism.
In 1975 the ‘No’ brigade argued that Britain would be a province in a European super state. Forty years on that claim can be seen as completely inaccurate. The Prime Minister’s deal in Brussels must surely have killed off that major argument of the Eurosceptics. The reality is we are stronger, more prosperous and safer as part of the EU.
Furthermore we’ve seen our values of democracy, free speech and the rule of law applied to European countries that had known nothing but dictatorships military rule in the south and totalitarian regimes in the East.
Our global allies see us as stronger and more powerful inside the European Union. From our nearest neighbours in Ireland, to the USA, to the countries of the Commonwealth, the international community is loud, vocal and clear, they want Britain to stay in the EU. Because it’s better for Britain, because it’s better for Europe and because it’s better for the World.
Now that David Cameron’s deal has been done, the fundamentals are as clear and as compelling as ever.
British manufacturing needs a Britain that is in Europe and millions of British jobs rely on Britain’s EU membership.
That’s why today I can announce that the Labour Party has registered with the Electoral Commission to campaign in this referendum.
We are the first political party to do so and we will be the only significant national party to be making our case to the country.
For peace and prosperity, jobs and growth, protection for workers and action on climate change.
For the security of our nation and Britain’s influence in the world.
Today we focused on the case for apprenticeships and jobs for young people. Tomorrow we go to Northern Ireland to stress the importance of the EU to the peace process and to our relationship with the Republic of Ireland.
There is no progressive case for Britain to isolate itself. Of course the EU isn’t perfect; there is no such thing as a perfect institution.
We need to be leading in Europe, not leaving. We need co-operation on our continent not conflict.
Airbus is a magnificent symbol of Europe working together and it’s been a huge pleasure to be with you today.