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For Britain, it should be clout not out

The UK presidency in 2017 will provide a special role in driving priorities, writes Gordon Brown in the Financial Times today:

In a few days’ time the focus of the EU referendum will shift from the current battle for the hearts and minds of Britain’s 11m Conservatives to an even larger group — the 14m voters, 9m of them Labour, who are not right-of-centre — and to the danger that many will not vote Remain, but simply remain at home.

While more instinctively pro-European, this group’s concerns are not the same as the Conservatives’. They do not think the status quo is to their benefit, they want to know how their lives can improve and they need to hear a positive message of how Europe can deliver for them in the future.

To win in the Scottish independence referendum, the Better Together campaign had to do much more than elaborate the negative consequences of the break-up of Britain. We had to set out a positive reform agenda, which eventually led to a new constitutional settlement. Fortunately, there is an evolving agenda for the 2017 UK presidency of the EU which can make a reformed Europe work better for Britain and show how Britain can lead in Europe.

The centrepiece should be creating jobs and fighting both insecurity and the causes of insecurity, not least the terrorist threat. Around these priorities we can construct a bigger pro-European majority and begin to fashion a British consensus on the future of Europe.

Each of the measures I propose is grounded in a simple truth: that in an increasingly interdependent world, Britain has to balance the autonomy we desire with the co-operation we need.

While the benefits of joining the euro remain unproven, it is clearly in Britain’s interest to champion the single market. Pushing forward with its next stage — opening up the digital economy, capital markets and the service sector — creates economies of scale, lower costs and access to finance that could bring up to 500,000 new jobs in the next decade.

Jobs will also come from accelerating the European infrastructure programme and delivering a reformed European energy market, where enhanced competition and the integration of British wind and wave power into a Europe-wide grid can deliver greater energy security and lower fuel bills, and tackle climate change.

British people support expanding cross-border co-operation to root out the traffickers who profit from illegal immigration and to counter terrorist threats. But to tackle the causes of terrorism in the Middle East and north Africa we need what no country alone, or a military alliance or America at a distance, can deliver: a modern, European-led Marshall Plan that reaches out through combining diplomacy, economic incentives and development aid.

The UK presidency gives us a special role in driving forward these priorities — and three related ones that matter to the British people. First, Europe should use its clout to blacklist, sanction and, where necessary, impose withholding taxes to bring into line the havens that have become treasure islands for the tax-avoiding few.

Second, the quality of jobs matters. There is a case for preventing the good company being undercut by the bad in a race to the bottom threatening ever worsening conditions for those on precarious zero-hours contracts. It makes practical sense for Europe to set basic minimum standards for the most insecure and unprotected of workers.

Finally, we should consider an enhanced European-financed solidarity fund to help communities where heightened levels of migration have put undue pressure on public services.

This positive agenda can not only persuade voters to turn out, but will show that Britain is discovering a post-imperial role in the vanguard of the next stage of Europe’s development. In short, we should be leading in Europe, not leaving it.