In a speech to the UK Chamber of Shipping I called for all politicians who back the UK remaining in the EU to make the positive case ahead of the vote on 23rd June.
I believe that those who support remain, including Nicola Sturgeon, have a duty to act in the best interests of Scotland by making the strongest possible case to remain in the EU.
You can read my full speech here:
I would like to thank you all for inviting me to speak here today, to make the positive and progressive argument for remaining in the EU.
I know you had David Davis MP yesterday giving the case for Brexit. I have a lot of time and respect for David but, on this occasion, I think he is wrong.
And I think the arguments for remain are particularly apt for the UK Shipping industry.
Let me look primarily at trade, but also at the other aspects such as Britain’s standing in the world, the need for co-operation to deal with problems that don’t respect boundaries like climate change, crime, terrorism, and finance.
I think it is important to put where we are today in context and without wishing to resort at this early stage to cliché, we are a maritime nation in a globalised world.
As an outward looking nation, we have been driven by our instinct to seek out and connect; to discover and explore.
And what facilitated and expedited this thirst for exploration?
Ships and our proud maritime history.
From wooden rafts to mighty tankers, over hundreds of years, ships have enabled us to reach far beyond our native shores.
At times of strife they have allowed us to forge priceless partnerships and allegiances; at times of peace, to trade and prosper.
As symbols of our capacity to overcome boundaries and connect with others, ships serve both as powerful metaphor and practical necessity.
And just as ships allowed us to form powerful and enduring relationships in the past, they continue to help us maintain them in the present, within the auspices of the European Union.
And that, of course, is what I am here to speak to you about today.
But before I move on to more substantive and specific arguments, I think it is worth revisiting the genesis of the European Union.
The EU was born of necessity.
The Schumann declaration, which laid the groundwork for what would become the EU, sought to end centuries of conflict.
For a continent with a history of violence, the establishment of a cooperative union for coal and steel production was the first step on the road to keeping the peace. By working together we could help spread the wealth and cut off some of the causes of economic hardship.
However, the creation of a more unified Europe, free from war, was something that politicians, academics and thinkers had long envisaged.
The guiding principle of this vision was – and this is central to the debate – to cede a little sovereignty to deliver long-term peace and prosperity.
Viewed in historical context, I think we can say the EU has realised this vision of a peaceful Europe.
And today I will argue that there are other important reasons, of particular relevance to the shipping industry, why the UK should vote to remain in the EU.
So let’s look at trade:
With the debate – or Tory Party family soap opera as I call it – now dominating the news cycle, I am wary of rehearsing familiar arguments.
I am sure that, by now, you are all well-acquainted with the headline facts and figures.
The Treasury has now published two reports on the impact of leaving the EU, dealing with both the short and the long term impact of Brexit.
Suffice to say, they did not paint a very pretty picture. It is really a case of bad, and….
However, in fairness, in addition to the Treasury, we have heard from many other respected organisations and individuals – from the Bank of England and the IMF, to Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. I also understand the powerful Treasury Select Committee is due to report.
All have, to varying degrees and for various reasons, counselled against Brexit.
Today the IFS has intervened, warning that leaving the EU could result in an additional two years of austerity.
I don’t think anyone wants that – and to counter the claims from the Leave camp that this is merely scaremongering – they can’t tell us what out looks like so we have to look at what we have in front of us.
So what does all this mean for the shipping industry?
I think the key issue here is Trade – although not exclusively.
Britain’s trading relationships have served to define us as a nation.
And the shipping industry is, and always has been, central to those relationships.
I don’t need to emphasise these to this audience but the industry itself contributes billions of pounds to the UK economy, and directly employs in excess of 130,000 people, working across a range of different sectors.
In Scotland, which is of course of particular interest to me, the maritime services sector employs around 35,000 people in the ports and shipping industries, and contributes over £600 million to the UK Exchequer.
Critically, the UK shipping industry is at the forefront of moving our imports and exports, keeping our international trading partnerships in motion.
Today, shipping moves 95% of the UK’s international trade.
Over 50% of that international trade is conducted with other EU Member States, and 40% of goods traded within the EU are moved by sea.
This is all due to our membership of the EU single market, which is the world’s largest single market.
It is an economic zone larger than the USA and Japan combined, with a total GDP of around £11 trillion, and a population of some 500 million people.
As a recent report by the Chamber of Shipping acknowledges, access to this market has had huge benefits for the shipping industry, helping “to drive growth in trade with our closest neighbours.”
It has enhanced conditions for shipping operators, and enriched the experience of customers and consumers alike.
But it is also about the fairness of a level playing field, where competition is on quality and price. That is important.
For operators, the removal of customs duties and tariffs has increased supply chain efficiency, and expedited access to markets in 28 EU member states and the wider European Economic Area.
For consumers, increased access to goods and products has expanded choice and diversity.
And for customers, the reduction of border controls and the removal of duties has eased and enhanced the travel experiences of ferry and cruise passengers.
More generally, the single market has supported and created jobs and encouraged economic and social progress throughout the EU.
Is it operating 100% efficiently and effectively? Possibly not. But then markets rarely do.
I know that, in some cases, there is a perceived conflict between global and regional regulation.
And I know there are concerns that the UK is not always getting the full benefit of cabotage access, and that anti-cabotage practices remain in place.
I am also aware of the international issues in regard to cabotage, with calls to roll back the so-called Jones Act. Does TTIP provide the industry with the potential to look at the protectionism of the Jones Act and how the removal for that could transform shipping?
But we cannot negotiate improvements to trading relationships within the EU, or between the EU and others, if we relinquish our seat at the European table.
And then there is the uncertainty.
The nature of our global trading relationships, and the regulations that govern them, have had, and will continue to have, a profound impact on the fortunes of the UK Shipping industry.
If we voted to leave, the way in which the industry adjusted to life outside the EU would depend upon the quality of the trade deal negotiated between the UK and the European Union.
Would that deal leave the UK shipping industry, and the UK, better off?
Would it expand and enhance the opportunities available to us, or would it merely serve to curtail them?
What would be the trade-off – for want of a better phrase – between securing the best deal possible, and securing the quickest deal possible?
We know that there will be a two-year period of renegotiation, but it could take several years for a new trade deal to become effective.
And it is not just a matter of our bilateral relationship with the EU: there is also the question of the other deals that the EU currently negotiates on our behalf.
Is there a risk that our European and International partners would see a commercial advantage in ensuring that the Uk does not get preferential tariffs and treatment?
How long would these deals take to negotiate?
Barack Obama has suggested that it would take “5 to 10 years” to negotiate a trade deal between the UK and the US – we don’t even know if TTIP will be signed.
Indeed, we do not know what the outcome of any of these trade negotiations would be.
What we do know, is that a vote to leave would give rise to a persistent and pervasive period of uncertainty.
Some might argue that to make these points is to prosecute a negative argument.
But you cannot make the positive case for all that our EU membership affords us, without exploring to some degree what would happen if we left – especially when the out side can’t tell us the very basics about what life outside the EU will look like.
You should always think carefully before sailing into uncharted waters. And from where I am standing, the forecast outside the EU looks distinctly murky.
That is why I feel a strong sense of duty to do everything I can to ensure a vote to remain.
It is a sense of duty that I think should be shared by all politicians who believe we are better off working in partnership with our friends and neighbours. We cede a little to gain a lot.
However, concerns have been raised that some politicians are not doing enough to make their voices heard.
For example, a recent focus group conducted by Lord Ashcroft found that Scottish voters see Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, as having been “absent from the debate”.
As one respondent said: “She’s the leader of this country so her opinion and views should really count for something.”
I agree entirely. But so far, apart from criticizing the arguments of the remain camp, Nicola Sturgeon has contributed precious little.
That’s not good enough.
Because, as much as it may pain me to say it, Nicola Sturgeon is by far the most influential politician in Scotland.
She needs to be out there for the next 28 days with the rest of us making the positive case for the EU.
Highlighting that the EU is by far our largest trading partner.
Emphasizing the 3 million British jobs linked to our trade with the EU.
Accentuating the vital role it plays in protecting workers’ rights:
Equal pay for women;
Rights to maternity and paternity leave;
Equal treatment for part time workers;
And the ability to deal with cross border issues such as financial regulation, the environment, terrorism and crime.
There are plenty of positive arguments to be made.
So Scotland’s First Minister should start making them, instead of drowning out the positive campaign with her own negative arguments.
She should be encouraging all of her cabinet, activists and supporters to get out into their communities and encourage people to vote remain – they are the only party not to have launched a distinctive SNP campaign as all the other parties have.
With the Tories tearing themselves apart over Brexit, we cannot afford to have the SNP sit this one out on the sidelines.
Because, for all that it is not perfect, the impact of the EU has been overwhelmingly positive.
It has afforded us access to markets in 28 EU member states, increased access to goods and products, and enhanced the travel experiences of all.
It has supported and created jobs and encouraged economic and social progress throughout the EU.
As Gordon Brown said the other day, the UK does not need to leave the EU.
It needs to lead the EU, as it did when Labour was in power.
Creating alliances, winning the arguments, gaining for the UK and shaping the future.
At the start of this speech, I sought to place the EU in historical context.
I argued that it was born of necessity, after centuries of bloody conflict.
We needed to find – for the sake of our common humanity – a better way to solve our problems.
A way predicated on peaceful co-operation.
There are many disagreements within the EU. But no longer do those disagreements lead to violence.
Perhaps we now take that for granted. But we should never forget what a victory that is.
It is no secret that the EU has not always operated as it should, but it is a work in progress.
It can and will be improved.
Are the out campaign and especially the Conservative Outers, really saying that a leading and influential world nation such as the UK can’t deal with and shape the future of the EU?
If we turn our backs on the EU, not only do we give up our seat at the influencing table, we actively harm our ability to meaningfully participate on the World stage.
There are some who say that the UK’s voice would be heard louder in isolation, than in concord with our friends and neighbour.
They are wrong.
Staying in the EU – and working to improve it – is the sensible choice for the UK shipping industry.
It is the positive choice for the UK shipping industry.
And it is the right choice for the country.
Facts can't win if the public don't believe. We need to make the case to remain and make it a case people can believe.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn also made a major speech on Europe recently which made the progressive case for remaining in the EU.
Progressive forces in Europe have worked together to secure rights for workers in Britain & across our continent.https://t.co/0VP00ggRsQ— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) 2 June 2016