Once in each generation, the case for Britain in Europe needs to be remade, from first principles. The time for this generation is now.
The debate should be conducted with good judgement, clarity and above all, based on fact. For months, if not years, there has been a clamour from those opposed to Europe, that has been always shrill and often effective. We are told that Europe is bad for the British economy. That being part of Europe means abandoning our allies in the USA. That Europe is obstinately against reform, dedicated to bloated bureaucracy rather than the needs of European citizens. That being in Europe means losing our identity as the British nation. That as a consequence, Britain should rule out joining the Euro and should prepare to leave Europe altogether.
It is time we took each one of these arguments in turn and demolished them.
Three and a half million British jobs depend on our membership of the EU. Over 50 per cent of our trade is with Europe. British firms daily sell ??320 million of goods and services into the European single market. Inward investment flows into Britain as a result of our being part of Europe. The English language, a flexible labour market, a thriving culture are all good reasons for companies choosing Britain as their place of entry to Europe. Last year alone, inward investment created 50,000 new jobs. But it is investment dependent on Britain in Europe.
Europe is not marginal to the British economy. It is fundamental to it and each day becomes more so. To quit Europe would be an act of economic mutilation.
Second, Britain is stronger with the US by reason of being in Europe. Go to the US. Deal, as I have, over the past two years, with issues of trade and investment, war and peace, with our US allies. They value us in our own right. Of course they do. But they value us even more as people who have influence in Europe who can talk to key European allies and who are respected both in the US and in Europe. Likewise, we are stronger in Europe if strong with the US. Stronger together. Influential with both. And a bridge between the two.
Third, we know Europe needs reform and we are fighting for it. Since taking office, we have shifted employment policy away from regulation to job creation. Next year in Portugal there is the first EU Summit dedicated to economic reform. The two British Commissioners in Europe have secured vital portfolios in shaping Europe in the future. Yes, there is a long way to go. But I say to you simply: we will only get reform in Europe by being part of Europe. We can also help lead debates about European defence, about effective action against crime and pollution, about the balance between integration and subsidiarity, how Europe does more in the areas it needs to do more; and gets out of the areas it doesn't need to be in at all. Europe can reform and Britain can and should play a leading part in achieving it.
And we make this case, not because we are pro-Europe - though I believe in the ideal of European partnership. We make it because we are pro-Britain. To be part of Europe is in the British national interest. So far from submerging our identity as a nation in some Eurosceptic parody of a Federal super-state, we believe that by being part of Europe, we advance our own self-interest as the British nation. This is a patriotic cause. The people here represent a patriotic alliance that puts country before Party. The Britain of the 21st Century should surely be the Britain I grew up believing in: not narrow-minded, chauvinistic or isolationist; but a country open in its attitudes, engaged in the outside world, adventurous in taking on the future's challenges, and having the confidence to know that working with others is a sign of strength not weakness.
And for all these reasons, to rule out participation in the next stage of European development - the single currency to accompany the single market - would be to repeat the mistakes of the past not learn from them. In principle, if the single currency succeeds and it is in Britain's economic interest, we should join. In practice, the economic conditions must be met. Meanwhile we prepare so we can decide. That puts the test exactly where it should be: what is good for jobs, trade, investment and industry in Britain. These conditions were set out in October 1997, repeated in February 1999; they remain in place. As does every other aspect of the policy, including of course the commitment to a referendum.
That is a sensible position. All the issues of principle: resolved. The test: the practical one of the national economic interest. What would be madness would be to shut the door on the option of joining a single currency in the future, deprive Britain of the choice of joining even if it was in our clear interests to do so.
All round the world, countries are moving closer. New alliances are being formed. From the Americas, to South East Asia and beyond, the pace of global economic and technological change is pushing nations together. In previous centuries, when different alliances dominating the world were being formed, Britain was sometimes their adversary, often in the thick of them, but never irrelevant.
The real denial of our history would be to retreat into isolation from the continent of Europe of which we are part and whose history we have so intimately shaped.
I will not and could not lead the country to such a position. In 1975, still a student, I voted yes in the referendum. I believed Britain's destiny was with Europe then. I believe it now. And I am proud to be part of a gathering that stretches across all political parties and none, to make our case to our country.