Hilary Benn and Richard Howitt launch Labour's bid to stay in EU at Stansted Airport
PUBLISHED: 16:37 10 December 2015 | UPDATED: 16:37 10 December 2015
Under the banner of Labour in for Britain, the Labour Party launched its campaign today (Thursday) to keep the UK in the EU.
Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Richard Howitt Member of the European Parliament, told the meeting of Labour supporters, at Stansted Airport’s Enterprise House, that leaving the EU would leave Britons worse off as business and industry took part in a “race to the bottom”.
The result would be a rush towards hiring cheap labour, making shoddy products and paying low taxes.
Mr Benn said: “The referendum could be as early as next summer. We have a choice to make about our place in the world.
“Through membership of the EU we are at the heart of Europe. It brings us jobs, growth, investment, influence and security. We also have a huge single market on our doorstep.
“Every year, the EU brings £26billion into the UK. We have a market of 500 million consumers in Europe. It also brings us rights and protections. It is a bulwark against the race to the bottom. It has brought us paid holidays, maternity and paternity leave, rights for agency workers and workers whose company is being taken over.
“There are now seven billion human beings on the earth, in a few years there will be 11 billion. We are interdependent on each other, look at the flow of refugees from the Middle East, people forced to leave their homes, who have landed at Stansted because they are fleeing terrible conflict. We need to manage this and the only way to do it successfully is to work with our neighbours.”
Mr Benn said he thought the vote should be extended to people aged 16 because the referendum was about their future.
“People aged 16 voted in the Scottish referendum. We wanted to extend the franchise but it was voted down in the Lords and it is now part of a game of Parliamentary ping pong.
“People say young people are not interested in politics, but I disagree. All the young people I meet in schools and colleges have a lot of views about the world and they will be running things when I am dust in the ground.”
Mr Benn said housing rights could also be protected by EU legislation.
“The Housing Bill now has an amendment to limit the tenure on a council home to five years. That means people enrolling their children in school will not know if they will be living in the same home when the child starts to go there.
“We will fight that, the way we fought the benefit cuts and the further police cuts.”
He added that Labour had introduced the minimum wage because “before that you would see an advert for a security guard in Leeds, £1.20 an hour and bring your own torch.”
Mr Howitt said: “People are worried about their job security. There is great pressure on them to work ever longer hours and to avoid pay claims. There is the high road of economic success where you have skilled jobs, high pay and a good quality of goods and services – or the low road with cheap labour, shoddy quality and cheap prices. Britain is never going to make it by taking the low road. By being part of the EU we can stand up to China and other superpowers and get a better deal for British people.”
Mr Howitt added that just as an estimated two million Europeans might have to leave Britain if the UK left the EU, the same number of Britons living in Europe would have to return home.
“There are 600,000 retired British people living in Spain, using the Spanish NHS. If they came home, they would be living on their pensions instead of young immigrants here now who are working and paying taxes.”
He warned: “If we leave the EU, in any situation where need international support, we will find a chill wind blowing, whether it be about helping refugees or fishing rights or issues in the banking system. No one is going to do us any favours because we have walked way.
“Our economy depends on the single market whether we are in the EU or not. It’s better to be at the table than leave an empty seat. It’s a lie to say that we can keep all the benefits and have none of the costs. That is a false promise. We need to keep our place in the world.”