This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander speaks to the Centre for Transatlantic Relations in Washington on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
Thank you Andras, for that introduction, and to the Centre for Transatlantic Relations for hosting me here today.
I met Andras last September while I was in town discussing US-UK nuclear deterrence policies, and he kindly invited me to come back and speak about another important factor in the US-UK relationship – the UK’s membership of the European Union.
At the time, neither of us could have known how remarkable the outcome of the recent European elections would be.
…So as it turns out, this event is actually quite timely.
Today I want to argue that, despite seemingly increasing euro-scepticism in the UK, we are not on the brink of exiting the EU. Doing so would be a disaster for Britain, putting our hard-fought economic recovery at risk.
But those of us who believe Britain should stay IN can’t afford to be complacent.
I also want to make the case today that this debate, across the European continent but especially in the UK, matters a great deal to the United States. And we need Atlanticists to stay engaged, speak out and help keep Britain in the EU.
First, a little bit about myself.
After all it might seem curious that British Treasury minister is speaking to you about the European Parliament, the European Union and the UK’s future within it.
In addition to my role in the Treasury, I am a member of the UK’s so-called Quad - made up of myself, the Prime Minister David Cameron, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. We four are the most senior politicians drawn from the two governing parties, and we are essentially the ultimate dispute resolution mechanism within our coalition.
At the time our Coalition was formed, we agreed that our government should be positively engaged in the EU, playing a strong and positive role with our partners.
But what a difference four years makes.
Over this period, our government was forced to make tough but necessary choices to get our economy back on track after the unprecedented financial crisis we suffered. And unsurprisingly there were and are still many who disagree with the decisions we’ve taken. And many of them believe the established political parties simply no longer speak for them.
The latest poll conducted by YouGov found an eight point lead for those who want Britain to stay in, the largest lead recorded since YouGov first asked the question in September 2010.
To me this means that when the case for staying in is being made regularly and strongly, the British public is more likely to agree that staying in the EU is in our national interest. The run up to the European elections also saw a series of very strong statements from UK businesses in key sectors like financial services and automotive about the underlying national economic interest of our EU membership.
When the focus is on jobs, and growth, and wider risks we take with our prosperity through isolation then the argument can and will be won. Indeed, the latest Treasury analysis shows that 3.3 million British jobs are connected to Britain’s place in Europe. I believe that is the measure of the risk that isolationists would have us take.
So pro-Europeans should be confident that the British public will not vote to leave the EU in the event that a referendum on our membership is called. British people want the jobs and opportunities that come with staying in the EU. They want Britain to continue leading in Europe and they want Britain to remain a leading voice on the world stage.
The EU is a global economic superpower and it would be foolish to turn our backs on it. We want to remain IN because in the fight against the greatest challenges of our time – terrorism and climate change – we can only make a difference if we work together. And IN because Britain stands tall in the world – and dare I say in Washington – when we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.
This isn’t some starry-eyed, unconditional affinity for the EU. The EU has flaws and it must reform. Not least economic reform, completing the single market, concluding TTIP, to help raise living standards across the EU. But Britain can only reform it by taking our place at the table, rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. By leading in Europe, not threatening to leave it.
Now, what does this have to do with the US?
These issues matter to you because a strong Britain in Europe is one of factors that makes our relationship strong and mutually beneficial. The UK is the most serious defence, security and intelligence partner you have in the EU. The UK is one of the strongest promoters of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in the EU, which would deliver more jobs and growth for both our economies. And the UK leads in Europe on liberal economic reform, including a greener economy. All of you who care about these issues should want to keep Britain in the EU.
Earlier this month, President Obama said publicly that it was hard to imagine either the UK or the EU being stronger after a British exit. That he was sure the British people would make the “right decision” in the event of an In/Out referendum on our membership of the EU. I couldn’t agree more.
This was a timely and helpful intervention into our debate. It confirmed publicly what we’ve known privately for quite sometime. That the US-UK relationship is stronger when Britain is engaged and leading in Europe.
And if you agree with him too, say so. Speak out, help keep our relationship strong by helping us make the case to stay in the EU.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.