Ed Miliband – 2016 Speech on the EU Referendum


Below is the text of the speech made by Ed Miliband, the former Leader of the Opposition, on 22 March 2016.

I want to start by echoing Alan’s words about the terror we have seen unfolding in Brussels.

All my thoughts are with the victims and their families.

It is a terrible reminder of the threats we face and the whole of our party will be feeling the deepest solidarity with the people of Belgium.

I am speaking out today because of the importance of the EU referendum.

I am doing so because I know some Labour voters feel ambivalent about it.

Because this was a referendum called by David Cameron.

Because the EU, like any institution, is not perfect and needs reform.

And because there are so many other issues that concern us about the future of the country.

We may not have sought this referendum, we may not have chosen its timing but this debate is too important to be one conducted between the centre-right, the right and the further-right.

My speech today will be followed after Easter by our leader Jeremy Corbyn.

And today I want to explain why this referendum should matter to us as Labour supporters and to every progressive in Britain.

This is not a debate about whether we support David Cameron or who will lead the Tory Party after him.

It is a debate about the future of our country.

I want to send a very clear message to the nine million people who voted Labour at the last election:

I believe the change you voted for and still want to see in Britain can only be achieved by us remaining in the European Union.

And leaving would irreparably set back the cause of Labour politics.

So I urge you to vote for Remain on June 23rd.

And I want to say to all members of our party that we cannot sit this one out.

We cannot sit it out when this choice is so fundamental to helping build the kind of country we want.

We cannot sit it out when the decision of Labour voters will be so crucial to the outcome of this referendum.

We are united, we can speak with one voice, and we need to do so.

By contrast, the last few days have shown the Conservative Party is divided, disunited and at each other’s throats.

But that makes it all the more important that we set out our case on Europe.

The civil war in the Conservative Party cannot and must not obscure the central question in this referendum:

Are we more likely to secure social justice and progressive change inside the EU or outside?

The answer is resoundingly that we should vote Remain.

This is my case:

First, the problems of the 21st century need co-operation across borders more than ever.

Second, yes, the EU needs to change to make it the more progressive union it needs to be – but that cannot be an argument for leaving.

Third, we need to expose the real agenda of most of those who would Leave –a direct route to a more unequal, unfair, unjust Britain.

My argument begins with the most basic of all Labour principles.

It unites Keir Hardie and Tony Blair, Clement Attlee and Jeremy Corbyn.

At heart our principle as a party is one of collectivism: the idea that we achieve more together than we can alone.

It says it on our party card.

It is true in Britain as we think about our great achievements produced by collective struggle and collective advance: trade unions, workers’ rights, the NHS, the minimum wage.

And it has always been the case that we have applied that principle internationally too: from the Spanish civil war, to the fight against the Nazis, to post war reconstruction.

But the unique thing about the 21st century is that this principle of international co-operation applies to so many more of the problems we face.

Think of any of the great challenges we care about in Britain 2016, and I will tell you why it is essential we stay in the EU.

Tackling inequality is the cause that brought me and so many of us into the Labour Party.

Then think about the different ways we need to tackle it.

We need to trade across borders to ensure good jobs and keep prices low.

That’s why we need to be in the European Union.

We need to make companies pay their taxes but one country can’t do it alone.

That’s why we need to be in the European Union.

We need to guarantee basic rights for workers but one country will find it much harder to do it on its own.

In a world where countries can be played off against each other, we need to co-ordinate across borders to make it happen.

That’s why we need to be in the European Union.

And don’t just take my word for it, look at the rights that have been delivered: four weeks paid holiday, better maternity leave, the 48 hour week.

It didn’t happen by chance, it happened because of our collective power in the European Union.

We need to cope with the threat of global stagnation, not with continued austerity but a different response.

But once again one country cannot do it on its own.

That’s why we need to be in the European Union.

Then take the most important threat of all; climate change.

It just isn’t realistic to think one country can do this on its own.

Britain is about one per cent of global emissions, the EU ten per cent.

Far from us being smaller, weaker and less significant in the EU the opposite is true.

We walk taller, prouder and have more influence inside not outside.

Membership of the EU has cleaned up our beaches, improved our water supplies and without the EU we would not even be debating the silent killer that is air pollution.

It is only EU legislation that is forcing any action from this government.

And then take the wider world in which we live.

The high ideals that led to the setting up of the EU after two world wars – are more relevant than ever

How do we deal with global threats and challenges?

Only by acting together not alone.

So mine is an argument rooted deep in Labour values of solidarity and co-operation.

And it is not based on the idea that our country doesn’t need to change – far from it.

We need to tackle inequality, turn away from austerity, make companies pay their taxes, confront the threat of climate change, and work internationally for a just world.

But the best way, indeed the only way we can effectively do it is by remaining in and not leaving the European Union.

The EU is an essential tool to tackle the great injustices of the 21st century.

But as I said at the outset, the EU is not perfect.

Some people on the Left look at what has happened in the European Union in recent years and see quite a lot they don’t like: austerity, the remoteness of some EU institutions, the response to the migration crisis, the proposed trade agreement with the US.

Some Labour voters worry about free movement of workers.

And in particular, what it means for them.

Let me confront head on both sets of concerns.

To the first set of concerns, I say, let’s not take the flaws in the implementation of a great principle and conclude that cooperation between countries is somehow the problem.

Because it isn’t.

The idea that we could confront the great causes of the 21st century outside the European Union is simply a fantasy.

We can’t end centre-right austerity across Europe on our own.

We can’t tackle climate change on our own.

We can’t make companies pay their taxes on our own.

We can’t solve the refugee crisis on our own.

We can’t confront any of the great injustices on our own.

Nothing in our values, our history, our beliefs tells us otherwise.

I ask you – how would we explain to our Socialist partners in France, Germany, Sweden, Spain that we had decided to abandon our principles of internationalism and go our own way?

The Labour party with our proud history.

They would look at us with disbelief and dismay.

They would ask why we are abandoning them and their attempt to build a centre-left Europe.

And they would be right to do so.

The answer is not to leave or hedge our bets, but instead implement a compelling progressive reform agenda for Britain and Europe.

We know the areas where we need change.

We must champion the opening up of EU institutions.

We must make the EU the powerhouse for tackling corporate tax avoidance.

We should be persuaders for the EU stepping up on the environment and not shrinking back.

And on the trade agreement with America, say ‘yes’ to trade across borders, but say ‘no’ to undemocratic, corporate dominated decision-making.

This kind of reform agenda is not only necessary but is in my view, also possible.

As far as the second set of worries is concerned, as a constituency MP, I hear it a lot.

The workers brought in and used to try and undercut wages.

The loopholes in rules which seem to mean unfair treatment.

The exploitation of migrant workers to undermine terms and conditions.

This is a profound issue.

But the answer is not to leave the European Union.

Because think about how much our workers would lose out from the end of the single market and all that means.

And even if we were to stay within the single market, but outside the EU, the experience of Norway shows, you end up being subject to free movement anyway – but having no say over the rules.

The real answer is to do a far better job of tackling that exploitation here at home.

Exploitation that this Government chooses not to act on.

Exploitation that is nothing to do with Europe and everything to do with political will.

We can end the abuse of agency workers rules.

We can end the rogue landlords.

We can change the rules in Europe to counter the undermining of collective agreements.

All this is possible.

It doesn’t need us to leave Europe.

It needs a government willing to make it happen.

So the answer is reform and remain – not leave.

And as we make our positive case, we need to be clear about the real agenda of most of those who would have us leave.

There are honourable Labour colleagues who have been consistent advocates of Leave.

I leave them aside in this.

But the vast majority of those who would Leave are not trying to build a fairer, more just Britain as we understand it.

They may play on people’s concerns about standards of living but just think of what they believe.

They are people who are anti-regulation wherever it comes from, who are anti-workers’ rights wherever they come from, who are sceptical about laws on the environment wherever they come from.

To be fair, that is because they have a consistent position.

When I say that the EU is a necessary tool against the power of corporations, they shake their heads.

They do not want to counter that corporate power.

Iain Duncan Smith in his maiden speech as an MP lauded the opt out from the social chapter.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he wanted to create a narrow relationship with Europe simply focussed on the single market.

Nigel Farage opposes protections for workers not simply because of Europe but because of what he believes.

Now these people may differ in some respects but they are united in their vision of a free market, low regulated, race to the bottom offshore Britain.

They believe low tax, low regulation is the way we succeed.

You can hear it in their speeches and see it in their agenda and even read it in their articles in the Daily Telegraph.

Think of the vision of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith for the country.

It is not my vision, it is not your vision and it is not the vision of nine million Labour voters either.

If Britain left the European Union, it would not serve a progressive, optimistic agenda.

It would serve a reactionary, pessimistic agenda.

Tax avoiders want to divide country from country to drive down tax rates.

Polluters want to turn country against country in a race to the bottom on standards.

Russia and those who disagree with us want to divide Europe.

Outside the EU that is what we would be exposed to.

Our strategic influence would be diminished, our country would be weaker and our capacity to achieve fairness and justice would be shrunken.

And in the end this is about the character of our country.

The fundamental question being asked now in Europe as in America is are we stronger as a nation when we build bridges or build walls?

Are we a people who choose to face our problems linking arms with our friends or hunkering down on our own?

Where the little Englanders look at the channel and see a moat, Britain’s success has been built for centuries by those who saw not a moat but sea lanes, shipping, the means of bringing our peoples together not dividing them.

That is what my parents found when they got refuge here.

They built a life for themselves and their family.

They made a contribution to the country.

Theirs was a life built from optimism out of the darkness and pessimism of the second world war.

And I believe we are the optimists in this campaign.

Optimists that we can conquer problems of inequality together.

That we can tackle climate change together.

That we can build social justice together.

That we can tackle the threats the world faces together.

Our opponents are not the optimists.

They share one thing in common

They are the pessimists.

Pessimists that we can work with others to build a better Britain.

Pessimists that these great causes like inequality and climate change can be tackled.

Pessimists that a more hopeful, internationalist future lies ahead.

We have always been the optimists.

So my message to you is to go out and win this referendum heart and soul.

Let’s recognise that we cannot put our feet up and see what happens

We cannot as party members be spectators or bystanders in this campaign.

Let’s understand the obvious fact: that those who turn up and vote will decide this referendum

Let’s be for remain not with apathy but enthusiasm.

Let’s win this referendum not simply with the arguments for remain but the arguments for how we want to change Britain and change Europe.

I want a more equal, a more just future.

We can only get it by remaining in the European Union.

Let’s vote to remain and then let’s elect a Labour government that can change Britain and change Europe.