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As referendum campaigning resumes in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder, it is all the more important to go positive. The public, which is already tiring of negative messages, will be even less receptive after this tragic killing.
If the two camps continue to tear into each other, it will be harder to unite the country on June 24. For the Remain camp, going positive means two things. First, showing how, for all the EU’s imperfections, Britain is richer and stronger by virtue of our membership. Second, and perhaps even more important, explaining the upside of staying in the bloc.
So far, David Cameron has failed to do this. But even at this late hour, it is not too late. The prime minister should set out Britain’s priorities in Europe if we vote to remain. Given that Mr Cameron has left a vacuum, InFacts has launched its own manifesto, Lead Europe, don’t leave Europe, on social media. The programme has been backed by Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians as well as by Britain’s only Green MP.
Its central theme is that Britain has always tackled the world’s problems, not run away from them. This is not a pipe-dream — in recent years, the country has not seized the agenda because it had one eye on the exit door. But if the people vote to stay in the EU, the UK can help provide leadership for the whole continent.
After all, Britain has Europe’s second-largest economy and may, in a generation, become the biggest. It also has Europe’s most sophisticated armed forces, best intelligence agencies and centuries of diplomatic expertise. Britain should use these assets to tackle problems that concern all Europe. This is what makes our manifesto so different from Mr Cameron’s renegotiation earlier this year, which was about cutting a special deal for Britain.
There are four priorities. First, creating the next generation of jobs: in the digital economy, high-tech manufacturing, financial services and the creative industries. We need to extend the single market to include the newest and liveliest industries — a single market fit for the 21st century.
Second, fighting terrorism and the causes of mass migration. This means sharing information with other European countries to track down jihadis. It will also require a joined-up political and economic plan to stabilise north Africa and the Middle East.
Third, combating climate change. Britain pushed the EU to make ambitious commitments at last year’s Paris talks — something which helped secure a good global deal. More action is needed to save our planet.
Fourth, a fairer Europe. We need to crack down on international tax cheats. Acting with our European allies should be the first step toward effective global action. We should also secure workers’ rights, so the fruits of economic success are shared.
Such an agenda is realistic because jobs, terrorism, mass migration, climate change and fairness are priorities for the whole of Europe. Senior politicians from across Europe including Germany’s Jörg Asmussen, Sweden’s Carl Bildt, France’s Pascal Lamy, Italy’s Enrico Letta and Poland’s Radoslaw Sikorski have already welcomed the initiative. So has Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister, who has urged the Labour party to rally behind a similar positive agenda.
This support from different political persuasions and countries suggests Mr Cameron could secure buy-in for such a plan from European leaders including Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Matteo Renzi. It is time for Britain to step up and lead, not leave, the EU.
The writer chairs InFacts, a website making the case for Britain to stay in the EU