BEING part of the European Union (EU) gives Britain wide influence and a “big voice” at most international forums, Conservative Baroness Sandip Verma has said.
Britain’s membership of the EU top table and its position as the fifth largest economy are both benefits that cannot be underestimated, the minister at the Department for International Development told Eastern Eye.
In an interview earlier this month, Baroness Verma said she was yet to hear compelling arguments to leave the EU.
“The Brexit campaign has failed, absolutely failed to tell me what the benefits are,” she said, referring to the group led by justice secretary Michael Gove and former London mayor Boris Johnson that wants out of the EU.
If the result of the June 23 referendum was in favour of leaving the EU, Baroness Verma said, “What we would end up doing is spending so much time having to negotiate with every single individual country that we would lose sight of the fact that we are already a trading partner in a big block with the world.
“What we don’t want to be doing is second guessing what we’re going to look like when we come out, because so far I haven’t seen any arguments that demonstrate to me the benefits of doing so.”
An immigrant from India who ran a successful business before moving to politics, Baroness Verma understands the concerns and challenges of businesses.
“I’ve spoken to lots of people from the Asian community, lots of businesses from the Asian community, all of them, certainly the ones I’ve spoken to, haven’t been as informed about the debate as I think they should have been, because the debates and discussions haven’t been as informative from the Brexit side,” she said.
“But what the Asian community have said to me is that they see themselves across the globe, in most countries where they have settled, and are doing well for themselves, they would like to continue seeing themselves as global citizens. As internationalists, being part of the EU allows them to go and find a job anywhere in Europe, in the 28 countries that are part of the EU.
“Actually it’s part of the psyche of the Indian community.”
Immigration has been a key issue in the debate about the referendum, with the Out campaign pointing out that freedom of movement within the EU means Britain cannot bring in migrants from outside the EU.
Baroness Verma addressed the issue saying, “I think it’s really sad that we’ve had a focus on immigration being a bad thing, when actually the contribution made to countries such as the UK has been by and large very positive and proactive. It’s right and proper that we have a look at how immigration impacts, the numbers coming and rightly so we need to manage the issue.
“But we mustn’t make it into a negative for the country because it’s enriched the UK. The prime minister (David Cameron) has over and over again said that immigration has enriched the UK, it has made us a stronger place. But we have to look at the numbers, of course we do, because it has an impact on services, on our school, on our health services, on our housing.
“At the same time, I think it’s really sad that the Brexiters have used immigration in a negative way because that’s not right for those who have settled here.”
Polls show that the opposing sides are neck and neck with both groups using reports and statistics to make their respective cases, and all the while the arguments are getting louder and in some cases, nastier, as the voting day nears.
Baroness Verma noted that “from a development point of view, we are able to – as a part of the EU – very much influence how development aid is spent in developing countries.
“We have a big influence and I think it’s really important not to forget being part of the EU allows us to be that big voice at most international forums.
“The benefit of being in is also that we share intelligence across the EU, that we share information that is absolutely necessary in benefiting our own trade and allowing the EU to trade much more easily with countries that we have greater influence over. So I can’t see the benefit of coming out.
“The argument is we will have control over our sovereignty; we already do. Control over our borders? We already do. We’re not part of Schengen, we’re not part of the euro, we’re not part of the Eurozone. Where are we actually going to benefit?”