Our relationship with our neighbours in Europe and our friends around the World is crucial for our future well-being and security. The commitment by the Conservative and Labour Parties to leave the European Union on the basis of the deeply flawed consultative referendum of June 2016 poses a profound threat to Britain’s future prosperity and to our legal engagement with important elements of the social market model of society.
Our future with Europe
Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 because tariff-free access to the large and fast-growing European market was crucial to our future prosperity. With a population of over 550 million, the EU is now the destination of some 44% of our exports – worth some £240 billion in 2016 out of a total of £550 billion. Successive Governments have successfully promoted the UK as a desirable location for inward investment by companies from around the World on the basis of our membership, boosting employment, skills and growth. A decision to leave the EU will inevitably mean that investments designed to supply the whole of the European market, and which have hitherto played a major role in driving the development of the economy and generating good quality jobs, will not in future come to the UK.
EU employment legislation is also a key guarantor of essential rights such as the entitlement to four weeks paid leave for all employees, to paid maternity leave and to protection against discrimination. The fact that these rights are embodied in European law protects British businesses from unfair competition by employers in other member states. Abandoning the guarantee of a level playing field in employment rights marks another step in the campaign by right-wing politicians to move the UK away from the social market towards a nationalistic, neo-conservative model.
The Single Market
Over the last thirty years, opinion polls have fairly consistently shown majority public support for continued membership of the EU. The referendum was called for internal party political reasons and was marred by simplistic and false assertions and a lack of any serious analysis of the huge difficulties and consequences that would be involved in implementing the decision to leave. The public were repeatedly assured that it would be a straightforward matter for the UK to negotiate continued membership of the Single Market, an objective which surveys show a large majority of the public support, but which the Government has since abandoned. Neither was the electorate warned that there would be an immediate cost to the taxpayer of leaving (which the Government has since agreed will be in the region of £40 billion, or £600 per head of the population), or of the problems that would inevitably follow in terms of our relationship with the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. The Radical Party believes that:
- everything possible to persuade the electorate that to leave the EU is not is the country’s interests and that it would be far preferable to seek to seek to use the country’s membership to reform it from within. If this still fails, the UK should remain within the Single Market, accepting the provisions for the freedom of movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court;
- on whatever basis, the priority must be to build a stable and positive relationship with the EU, which ensures continuing access to the largest market in the World on the best terms available.
Britain and the World
As well as through our relations with our neighbours in Europe, our security and influence in the World depends on positive engagement with a variety of international organisations and treaties, in particular the institutions of the United Nations. The election of President Trump and the wave of populist nationalism stoked by the Brexit campaign have called in question the need for formal, multilateral legality at the global level. The Radical Party considers that the scale of international threats such as climate change, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and population growth demand strong support for internationalism. As part of this, Britain should take a lead with like-minded progressive democracies in arguing for new initiatives to reinvigorate and modernising the framework for international legality and collaboration, for example, by reforming the Security Council of the UN.
Over the years, the focus of British development assistance has changed repeatedly in response to the philosophical orientation of each incoming Government. As well as issues such as promoting sustainable economic development and humanitarian assistance it of vital practical importance that public support is maintained for support in areas such as de-militarisation, addressing the threat of global warming; population growth and tackling the drugs trade. The Party believes that Britain should:
- work towards the further development of international law and multilateral international institutions as the most effective and sustainable means of supporting progress towards peace, human rights and security;
- uphold its commitment to contributing a minimum of 0.7% of GNP to development assistance, with a high priority being given to humanitarian aid;
- continue to support the funding of international agencies committed to tackling poverty and promoting social progress and self-determination for individuals, communities and nations around the world.
The Party notes the relatively low level of unemployment in the UK in comparison with many other countries which supports the view that immigration from the EU in recent years has gone hand in hand with growth and job creation. It recognises both the benefits that immigrants bring to Britain and that the overall level of immigration needs to be controlled, within the framework of national and international law. The existing system of immigration control must be made to work fairly and effectively, the rights of asylum seekers respected, and the safety and well-being of refugees guaranteed in collaboration with our international partners.
The Party considers that, as in allowed under EU regulations and is applied in Germany, migrants from EU countries should be able to come to the UK and remain here provided they can find work within three months. With this proviso, the Party is wholly opposed to the introduction of further constraints on immigration from EU member countries, which would inevitably lead to skills shortages in the UK and to restrictions on British citizens wishing to work abroad. Controls on immigration must not be allowed to deter bona fide overseas students or prevent employers from recruiting highly qualified staff from other parts of the World. The Radical Party believes that:
- plans to end freedom of movement for workers from the EU should be cancelled;
- efforts should be stepped up to strengthen international and bi-lateral initiatives and agreements aiming to deter would be immigrants from putting their lives at risk by resorting to people smugglers;
- the policy of allowing high performing graduate and postgraduate students from outside of the EU to stay on in the UK for an appropriate period after graduation to explore opportunities to find employment should be reinstated.
Defence and security
Britain needs a defence system which, taking into account our international alliances, reflects, and is sufficient to address, the threats we will continue to face for the foreseeable future. These include potential threats to the UK and our allies from possible future nuclear-armed dictatorships and threats from non-state terrorist groups. However, this is also an age of growing and diffuse ‘non-kinetic’ threats, including espionage, covert political operations, computer hacking, and corruption, which need to be deterred and defeated. We believe that, regrettably, in the current circumstances, nuclear weapons remain essential to our capacity to deter potential aggression and nuclear blackmail, but a baanced approach to deterence requires that this must not be at the expense of Britain’s conventional capabilities.
Recent experience with Iran indicates that negotiations and effective international sanctions can be effective in containing the threat of proliferation. It is important to remember that at least 20 countries around the World, which have the technical capacity to develop nuclear weapons of their own, have refrained from doing so because of international law and because they are protected by collective security agreements.
At the same time, Britain needs conventional forces which are adequate both for its own defence and also to maintain our position in the world as a guarantor of not just our national interests but also our values. From disaster relief to humanitarian intervention, the British military also underpins our capacity to be a credible global player. We cannot and should not pretend to be a global military power in our own right, but we need to protect our ability to operate out of area, especially as part of multilateral forces.
This also demands adequate intelligence and security structures. In a rapidly-changing environment, where open sources proliferate, and non-state threats abound, Britain needs a comprehensive review of its intelligence structures and priorities. This should not be a cost-cutting exercise, as the services contribute not only to our own security and that of our allies, but also provide us with a distinctive role in the world. Rather, it is to ensure that our services are best suited to the challenges and opportunities of the modern world.
The Party believes that Britain should:
- continue to honour its pledge to maintain spending on defence at 2% of GNP and press other members of NATO to do likewise;
- maintain its nuclear defence force at the present level, including the submarine-based ballistic missile system ;
- act with the international community to do everything possible to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction;
- join with others in a redoubled effort to persuade Russia and the US to reduce their current nuclear arsenals, as a staging post to further future multilateral reductions based on shared values, a strengthened system of international governance and an effective and credible framework for conflict resolution.