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Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 5th February 2016.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 1:46 pm, 5th February 2016

The hon. Gentleman makes a relevant point, but all of us, as Members of this House, must make sure that whatever speeches we make, and whatever proposals or Bills we bring forward, they are evidence based. I would encourage him to do that.

I am incredibly proud to be British, but I am also an internationalist and an unabashed Europhile. Part of that is due to my personal experience. My great-grandparents were migrants from Poland and Germany. My grandmothers were French and Irish. My dad’s wife is Dutch, and she and my dad have retired to Spain. My brother’s wife is American, and she and my brother live in the US. My husband was born in South Africa. Before I became an MP, my work as a public health consultant took me across the world, and predominantly across Europe. I have seen the immense benefits of that cultural diversity and those employment opportunities, not only in my own personal life but in the economic benefits to the country as a whole.

The EU is our biggest trading partner, alone contributing £227 billion to the economy last year, with £26.5 billion in investment coming from Europe every year. There are 3.5 million associated jobs, of which 14,000 are in my area of Oldham. Britain’s EU membership makes us a major player in world trade. As an EU member, we are part of a market of 500 million consumers that other countries want to do business with. The UK is stronger in negotiating deals with countries such as China and the US as part of the EU group of 28 nations than we would be on our own.

It is not just Britain’s prosperity that depends on our EU membership. After the horrors of two world wars in the previous century, the EU fosters greater ties and supports struggling regions. I was working on Merseyside in the 1990s when European objective 1 funding was made available to that area. Our working together across Europe with our member state partners has ensured 70 years of peace between European states. Cross-border co-operation is essential for Britain’s future safety and wellbeing. Viruses such as Zika and Ebola do not recognise borders, nor do organised crime gangs and tax evaders, or carbon particulates and nitrous dioxide emissions. All those issues require our working closely with EU and other international countries, and the best way to achieve that is by being part of Europe, not on the fringes. That does not mean that we should not be striving for reform within all the EU institutions in strengthening governance, democratic accountability and sovereignty, but if you are going to change the rules, you need to be part of the club.