Why Australia wants Britain to stay in EU
Commonwealth members feel reassured by the UK’s place in a Europe that’s united and strong
Ihave some heartfelt advice for the British people. But I realise I must tread carefully: interventions on domestic issues from foreign politicians are not always welcome. And as a former deputy prime minister of Australia writing in the aftermath of the Rugby World Cup, it’s quite possible that English and Scottish voters won’t be interested in a word I have to say. But listen you should. For Britain and Australia aren’t just two countries. We share a language, a culture, even a head of state. Our joint history encompasses sacrifice in two bloody world wars, innumerable sporting tussles, and over two centuries of friendship. And for two countries that are so distant, we continue to mix to a startling degree. More than a million people in Australia were born in the United Kingdom, while anyone who spends any time in London will be surprised by the cacophony of Australian accents. Our citizens and governments look out for one another and reserve the right respectfully to point out when we think the other might be about to make a grave mistake. In my opinion, and in that of the vast majority of my fellow Australians, Britain leaving the European Union would be a mistake of monumental proportions. Europe’s single market is the largest free-trade zone in the world, where trade barriers at the border (in the form of tariffs) are eliminated, and where barriers behind the border (in the form of regulations) are minimised. This should be valued and developed: it is vital for Britain’s economy as it makes you a highly attractive destination for global investment. International companies from outside the EU – from, say, the US, Japan and, indeed, Australia – base themselves in the UK in no small part so they can access the wider European market. The single market is especially beneficial for your vibrant and world-beating financial services industry, which benefits from having all of Europe as its home market instead of just Britain. I can see no good reason why the UK would want to give up such a beneficial economic relationship with its nearest and largest trading partners – nor am I clear what you would replace it with. But it’s not just about the economic advantages. For more than 20 years I have been a member of parliament for the Australian Labor Party. The links between my party and the British Labour movement have always been close, so I know well how EU law has provided the basis for vital protections for working people in Britain – from four weeks’ paid holiday and protections for agency workers, to maternity and paternity leave. And just as domestic progressive advances have their basis in European action, so do they on the world stage. Europe has the world’s largest international development programme, it has led the world in tackling climate change, and protected and spread democracy across its continent. Britain has been part of this effort and has its voice amplified in the world through Europe. Australians, like the citizens of all Commonwealth and Englishspeaking countries, are comforted by the knowledge that the United Kingdom is at the top table. For Britain to absent itself from one of the most important global decisionmaking forums would be a betrayal of its history and its role in the world. Europe magnifies strength in a dangerous world; it provides the structures for its member states to cooperate, share intelligence, coordinate investigations and pool resources to bring the rule of law to bear on suspects as we face the serious threat of international terrorism. Of course, Britain also cooperates on security with its Commonwealth allies, but these European arrangements are essential and could not be replicated outside. There are many in British politics who make the passionate and articulate case that a strong alliance with the Commonwealth, and with the English-speaking countries in particular, could be a viable alternative to the EU. I cherish and value the Commonwealth of Nations. It allows countries with a shared history to retain a link and to work together in pursuit of goals like greater democracy and ending extreme poverty. But the Commonwealth cannot be a replacement for the European Union. Turning the Commonwealth into a free trade area with harmonised regulations and a common trade policy is not on the agenda. And it is wrong to say that the EU holds back UK-Commonwealth trading relations. UK trade with the Commonwealth has risen while being in Europe. It is a false choice to suggest that Britain can only have one or the other. Those who advocate using the Commonwealth as a replacement for the EU are guilty of gazing through misty eyes to the past rather than focusing clearly on the future. My advice to the people of Britain is simple. Australians, and all of your traditional friends, want you to remain in Europe. A Britain that is stronger, safer, and better off at home makes for a stronger Commonwealth, and we know that Britain is stronger in Europe.