The UK’s place in the world and the EU referendum

Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening speaks at the London Business School.

I am delighted to be back here at the London Business School. Although I’ve been a Member of Parliament for over 10 years, even now, most of my career has been spent in business.

And some of that time was spent here doing an MBA in this very lecture room.

In fact it was in the sandwich shop over the street that another student, who was more involved with the Conservative Party than I was then, suggested I go on the Parliamentary Candidates list.

So it wasn’t just my business career that got a kick start at LBS, it was my political career too.

All of which means, I know from first-hand experience that this is a place that builds people’s future. It’s a place that builds opportunity.

And the decision we make on 23 June will either open doors, or close them on, opportunity for Britain’s young people.

And it will be a decision of profound importance to not only our country but much wider in the world.

It is unlike any vote this country has had in decades.

For many people, myself included, it will be the first time we get the chance to have our say on Britain’s relationship with the EU.

The consequences of those millions of votes cast in just 8 weeks’ time will be as long-lasting in the decades to come as the result of the 1975 referendum.

There will be no election in 5 years’ time to change our mind if we get this wrong.

Generations of people growing up in our country will have to live with the consequences of our vote.

In fact the younger you are, the longer you have to live with the consequences.

So for young people this is no vote to leave to others.

Those who advocate us leaving the EU make an argument about sovereignty, and being able to choose the people who take the decisions that govern our lives.

I agree…. those issues - sovereignty….and choosing those who take the decisions, being in control of our own destiny - they are vital.

But I disagree that this means Britain should leave the EU.

People say our decisions should be made in Westminster. I agree. And they are.

But quite simply, we are part of a wider world that takes decisions that affect us too.

We are not insulated from them.

Europe is our continent. It’s not a choice, it’s a geographical fact.

What happens across Europe affects us, first and foremost because of proximity, not politics.

We can’t just ignore this.

This isn’t a vote to abolish the EU, it will still be there.

As a group of nations, the European Union will still be taking decisions that affect Europe’s single market.

To me, it’s an odd concept of sovereignty and influence…that sees our country walk away from being a voice around the table where decisions are taken that affect us.

That somehow we are a more powerful voice all on our own.

It flies in the face of common sense, and of basic diplomacy.

Staying in the EU is smart diplomacy and smart economics.

Smart economics because we keep access to the European free trade area we call the single market.

A single market of 500 million people, and we keep a say over the rules of doing business across Europe. That means more jobs, lower prices, and more financial security for British families.

And it’s smart diplomacy because we can influence more widely by staying within the EU. As President Obama said, this amplifies Britain’s influence.

Britain can no more successfully insulate itself from the EU and Europe than Sheffield could declare itself a “Nuclear Free Zone” in the 1980s.

Some say we will embark on a new British “internationalism”.

But de facto, on our own, it will be a unilateral internationalism.

And if that sounds like an oxymoron that’s because it is.

The reality is that Britain’s and Europe’s common future is as surely bound up together as our past has been.

Europe is our continent. A continent that our country has shaped as much as any other country that is part of it.

I’m proud of Britain’s history standing up for freedom and liberty.

Europe wouldn’t even exist in its current form if we hadn’t.

But are we really to reach the conclusion that those days of influence are over?

That those arguments on the future course of the EU are ones our country does not have the wherewithal to win?

I believe that those who advocate leaving Europe are wrong in substance and wrong in strategy.

They are wrong in substance because whether you take your economic analysis from the IMF, the OECD, the IFS, or the Treasury, to name a few, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear.

The choice in this referendum is: economic security as part of the EU free trade area that we are already in, or a leap in the dark.

A Britain outside the EU will be worse off by comparison.

£36 billion, or maybe even more.


That is a huge dent in our public spending on the very things our country depends on for its success: education, health, transport infrastructure, all of it put under pressure if we leave.

The central estimate from the Treasury analysis is that in the long run GDP would be lower and Britain would be worse off by £4,300 per household, every year.

So this affects us all.

Look at Albania…as I understand it, that’s the current Brexit destination of choice.

A country with a deal that the Prime Minister of Albania has pointed out this week, took 6 years to negotiate, one that still doesn’t give it full access to Europe’s single market and keeps tariffs on certain goods.

A deal that sees it have to comply with EU regulations to sell into that single market, getting checked up on by EU institutions so they follow the rules, but with no seat around the table.

I said those advocating leaving were wrong in substance and strategy.

Leaving is wrong in strategy too, because it is illogical to make an argument that we shape the EU more from being outside than in.

Why? How would we do that? Again, it flies in the face of common sense.

It would be like getting divorced, moving out, then still expecting to pick what colour curtains you have in the front room.

There’s not a lot of post-Brexit referendum strategy out there to analyse. Maybe a plan is coming.

But it seems to me that as it stands, leaving the EU is a one-way ticket, with no clear destination.

As far as I can see, we want to leave Europe’s single market, to then immediately attempt to rejoin it, but on better terms?

There is no evidence for that being possible all, in fact quite the reverse if you look at Norway, Canada, Switzerland…

Why would any club or membership organisation give non-members a better deal - people who are outside it?

It’s like cancelling your gym subscription and expecting to get upgraded access to all the fitness machines.

But of course, this is no joke.

This is worse than wishful thinking because it comes with a cost.

As I said, that cost is our economy - a £36bn hit to tax receipts every year - it won’t just be public services squeezed, it will be our jobs, especially the livelihoods of people on lower incomes.

When I go back to my childhood I was surrounded by people.

They were adamant about their vision of a better Britain, why it was right… It was also one that somehow didn’t want to confront economic reality….

These were the same people who thought it was sensible to declare Sheffield a Nuclear Free Zone.

But I learnt that it’s never them that pay the price for misplaced idealism, the unwillingness to deal with reality.

It’s other people, generally on much lower incomes.

People like my father. They’re the ones who actually lose their jobs when idealism unravels in the face of hard practicalities.

And if you’re someone already fed up of this EU referendum, well if we vote to leave, then you’ll have a lot more Europe in the coming years.

This referendum debate will be just the start as the big Brexit renegotiate kicks off.

It’ll be on our TVs every night for ever. Gogglebox will get really boring.

As we leave the EU…to then start our renegotiation to get back in to the European single market.

We would get 2 years to negotiate a new agreement with the EU - that’s how long the grace period is.

Otherwise we end up with a WTO country status which is worse than the Norway model, worse than the Canada model and it would cost us £47bn - annually.

In addition, there are 53 markets we have free trade with through the EU that we would leave and have to renegotiate.

With more on the way, including with some of the world’s biggest markets such as the US, India and Japan. These would lapse the day we left the EU and would have to be renegotiated. How long would it take to negotiate trade deals with over 50 countries?

And this argument that on exports the EU needs us more than we need them is also wrong in fact.

44% of our exports are with the EU, but just 8% of theirs are to us. The EU exports more to the United States than it does to us.

So as well as being back of the queue for the US, as President Obama pointed out, there’s a danger we’ll be back of the queue for the EU too.

So queues, lines, whatever you call them, we’ll be at the back.

And these renegotiations, taking years, would be an unwanted, frustrating source of diplomatic friction across the board on our international relationships.

In practice, the danger is that there would be little space for us to work on anything else.

It would take all of Britain’s diplomatic bandwidth. At a time when we can least afford it.

In this job I have had to confront some of the most intractable problems that our world faces: from Syria, to South Sudan, to Yemen….

… to the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, …..

…..the progressive impact of climate change,…..

…. and dramatically changing demographics in Africa.

And we have the challenges of economics as we see commodity price falls and the knock on effects of global instability.

These global shifts are there irrespective of the EU, and whether we’re in it or not.

We either face them together, or alone.

Our best chance of rising to those challenges is by working in partnership.

It was Britain, sat around the EU table, making the case that there needed to be more support in the region for Syrian refugees…

…That the smart response to the refugee crisis last summer was to take people direct from the camps. Something the EU is now doing.

It was Britain, sat around the EU table, making the case for education for Syrian children, for jobs and livelihoods for Syrian refugees to better support themselves…

….working with Germany so that we could both lobby the EU and other member states directly at a European Council meeting in December last year….

And that gave us the platform for our successful London Syria conference earlier this year.

We just wouldn’t have had the network or the sheer lobbying clout to do that outside of the EU.

This is an example of what we mean when we say being around the EU table “magnifies” Britain’s influence.

We have always been a country that has taken a lead, taken the world’s priorities and made them ours to deal with too.

I was at the World Bank two weeks ago. Not one person I met wants Britain to disengage from Europe.

We are the country that has not only shaped Europe’s response to the Syria humanitarian crisis, but the world’s.

And to walk away from our own near neighbourhood would be taken by others around the world as a step of isolation, not “internationalism”.

At the very moment our views around the table are most needed and can make the most impact.

Britain pulling up the drawbridge doesn’t stop the world out there from having these problems. It just makes it a lot harder for us to make sure the global response is a smart one, tackling problems at source.

It’s a bit like arguing you should get rid of police tackling crime and just put all your money into putting more locks on your front door.

It’s an unwise choice in today’s world and the future world.

And it’s a false choice.

We need to do both.

The world isn’t more secure with Britain isolating itself from Europe, it’s less secure…

…just as surely as if we left NATO, or the UN Security Council. Which would of course also be nonsensical.

And fundamentally, if Britain has something to say, why would our great country not be around the EU table to say it?

And that’s why in the end this is a vote not just about Britain’s place in Europe…

… but about Britain’s place in the world.

Together, working as partners, shaping events,


Isolated, lobbying from the sidelines.

And I wanted to finish by saying that I think Britain’s young people understand this better than any of us.

They are the most connected generation ever.

For them, the world feels like a much smaller place, and they understand it’s only going to get smaller still in their lifetime.

The young volunteers we have on DFID’s International Citizens Service understand that you address today’s challenges by working constructively with others, not by turning your back.

My message to young people is - this is your country.

This vote is about your future.

This vote is about what you want Britain to stand for in the 21st century. Part of the wider world, or apart from it.

This vote is about whether your voice will be at the EU table of the future.

I believe that winning those arguments about Europe’s future….

….about how we collectively rise to the global challenges my department grapples with every day….

…..that starts with being in those debates in the first place.

This referendum will produce a result.

A result that will have to be accepted by everyone. Including you.

So as a young person, if you’re not even voting in this referendum, how can you make your voice count?

Yet your view matters as much as anyone’s.

We know each new generation is less likely to vote than the one before. Nearly 80% of over 65’s vote, but well under half of 18-24 year olds vote.

That works out at 2 million missing votes of young people, compared to if they voted as much as their grandparents.

It’s a powerful voice. But it’s not being heard.

2 million missing votes

So it’s time for a new generation to have your say.

This isn’t about party politics, if that’s what’s switching you off voting.

It’s about taking care of our country’s future - of your future.

Your country has never needed you to vote more than it will do on 23rd June, 2016.

Our democracy is precious, but it only works when everyone has their say.

That has to include you.

This referendum can be an opportunity - a watershed moment for Britain, and it can be a watershed moment for a new generation of voters.

If you’ve never voted before, give yourself the chance to take a first step towards building the country that you want and making our democracy work for you.

Shaping our politics away from a divisive, negative debate about what we don’t want towards an agreement about what we do want.

Make it a vote about setting out what our country stands for, what our place is in the 21st century.

Even if you don’t get involved with the formal campaign, if you care, get out there and persuade your friends, your family. Make the difference in this referendum.

To those 2 million missing young voters and all young people.

Don’t leave this referendum to others.

So much of what is ahead of you and Britain will turn on referendum day on the 23rd June.

Everything is at stake.

And it’s time for you to start setting the agenda, to start setting our agenda.

This is about your country, your future.

It’s about your vote. Use it.

Thank you.