David Blunkett exclusive: We can’t be little Britain in new world of giants

David Blunkett
David Blunkett

TODAY I set out what I believe to be a compelling case for Britain to remain in the EU. I do so from a background of Euro scepticism, including voting to come out of the European Union 41 years ago.

So what has changed? Quite simply, the world around us. What has changed is where power lies, and how we use our influence as a nation in order to be able to continue to exercise a modicum of real influence in this highly globalised, insecure and uncertain world.

David Blunkett (right) meets French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy near the Frethun freight terminal in Calais, France, Thursday September 26, 2002,  where they inspected a new multi-million pound fence designed to deter asylum seekers from boarding trains to Britain.

David Blunkett (right) meets French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy near the Frethun freight terminal in Calais, France, Thursday September 26, 2002, where they inspected a new multi-million pound fence designed to deter asylum seekers from boarding trains to Britain.

There are, of course, countries with a population much less than that of Yorkshire. But as we argued successfully two years ago when the Scottish people voted to reject exit from the United Kingdom, a nation with a population slightly less than Yorkshire’s was better off inside rather than outside the UK.

Many of the same arguments apply in terms of our continuing commitment within, and our efforts to change for the better, the European Union. For in this ever changing world, it is those who are part of powerful blocs, who combine together to maximise their clout, who gain the greatest results.

This is true of nation states facing the enormous trans-national influence of major private companies and countries such as China and India with populations of around 1.2 billion. Whether in finance or mining, communications and social media, it is the great giants of the world who now exercise such power way beyond national boundaries, and overwhelmingly cancel out any arguments relating to the sovereignty of individual nations.

Back in 2002 with the then Interior Minister of France, later to become President, Nicolas Sarkozy, we reached historic agreement. The agreement did not just result in the closure of the Sangatte Camp outside Calais, but the establishment of a special zone in northern France, where British intelligence, security and customs staff would be able to double check those seeking to enter the United Kingdom.

That agreement grew out of the joint understanding that we had in working together on the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the EU. Of course this was a bilateral agreement, but within the European boundaries and also recognising the role that all of us had to play in protecting the outer boundary of the EU and the security, intelligence and policing functions that made it possible to stop people simply flowing across individual countries, and into the UK.

I have absolutely no doubt that were we to leave the European Union, the French would no longer continue to have arrangements which effectively allow the UK border to operate on French soil.

Like Britain, Yorkshire benefits from – and contributes to – the wellbeing of the wider European Union. We have over the last 40 years said very little about the substantial contribution made back into the Yorkshire economy, both in terms of the direct return of cash as part of the operation of European Social and Structural Funds, but also in respect of our great White Rose Universities.

From Sheffield and Rotherham’s advanced manufacturing research centre, through to investment in the University of Leeds, from the Deep in Hull, to the refurbishment of Sheffield City Centre, Yorkshire has benefitted.

Historically, South Yorkshire benefitted substantially from what was known as Objective One funding. This was aimed at those regions across Europe facing the greatest challenge in the restructuring of industry, the levels of unemployment and social deprivation, and the critical task of preparation for a very different future.

While in the 1980s, the Government of the day believed in a “hands off” policy towards industry and local economies, the European Union was developing positive interventions to help with that critical social as well as economic restructuring. From training and retraining, through to investment in infrastructure, Yorkshire benefitted.

In the present era, it has been stated very clearly by Siemens that they would not be investing in the future of wind power and jobs in Humberside if it were not for the fact that we were in the EU.

But selling our goods and services, our know-how and expertise into a European Union with a single market, is only one side of the coin. For we also have a great deal to give. The developments of two new City Regions based on Leeds and Bradford in the West, and South Yorkshire through to the East Midlands, offers a chance of developing new relationships with regions across the EU. In this way, we can exercise further influence to make the European Union both more efficient and people-centred.

Across Europe there are people of like mind. Sick of bureaucracy but recognising the reality of global influences and the need to exercise power by combining together and forming alliances together.

Let us take great pride in Yorkshire, in our country and in our history but let us also face the overwhelming reality of the world as it is today and the challenges of tomorrow. That is why in this referendum, a vote to stay in is a vote to acknowledge the reality of power.

Lord Blunkett is a Labour MP. He was a Cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government and MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.