Interview with The Times: why we should remain in the EU

Here is my interview with The Times, setting out why I am campaigning to remain in a reformed Europe:

Can this man persuade the easyJet generation to vote Remain?

 

Can this man persuade the easyJet generation to vote Remain?

Sam Gyimah is modest enough to admit that his is not a household name.

Elected in 2010, he is childcare minister at the Department for Education.

And from this week, the face of the campaign to win over younger people to vote to keep Britain in the EU.

Still considering himself young – he turns 40 in August – he argues that those born in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, dubbed the “easyJet generation”, have only known life in the EU and are baffled why anyone would want to leave.

He has the advantage of talking like a normal person, and a backstory that marks him out in the Tory party.

Born in the Home Counties, the son of a GP and a nurse, his parents split up when he was six and he went with his mother to live in Ghana before returning to a state school in the UK to study for his GCSEs.

PPE at Oxford followed, and then he joined Goldman Sachs – a career choice he appears unembarrassed by in this post-crash age.

He describes himself as a “proud Brit”, and suggests that his experience growing up in the Commonwealth should make him lean towards leaving the EU.

Instead he argues that while Brussels is “annoying and frustrating”, it is part of the give and take of any relationship.

A lack of total control over all areas of policy is not an excuse to “stomp off”.

An expansion of the single market in digital services means that the next Facebook or Google could emerge in the UK, instead of British firms being bought up by US tech giants.

 

ON THE EASYJET GENERATION

I am 40 this year. So I didn’t have a vote in the last referendum. I’m very conscious of that, I am very glad that we have an in-out referendum and I can have a say in our most important foreign policy relationship.

The people I’m particularly interested in are what I’d call the “easyJet generation”, what branding people would call generations x and y. Those born between 1970 and 2000.

This is a generation that has lived almost its entire life while the UK has been in the European Union.

Therefore they have a unique perspective on the EU and our relationship with it.

This is the generation that takes for granted the fact that on a weekend they can weigh up a flight going to Manchester or Madrid.

This is the generation that has become europeanised, whether it’s culture, whether it’s food, whether it’s entertainment.

It is a generation that can electrify the campaign.

When you look at the Scottish referendum you had about an 85 per cent turnout for this group of people and it transformed the debate and the discussion.

Another fact that this generation takes for granted which the previous generation wouldn’t is that now as many as two million Brits at any one time are now living abroad. Some have parents with holiday homes overseas.

For them Europe is on their doorstep. Two million Brits. You are talking about double the size of Birmingham living abroad and that it is normal for them.

They have grown up in a world where London is Europe’s capital and the world’s capital.

Where you have young people flocking to our cities, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton.

They have grown up taking all of this for granted and it is their life experience, their past and present.

But the big issue for them is also their future and what this means for them.

 

ON THE FUTURE

By being in the EU and continuing to fight for reform, I believe we give this generation the best chance of a prosperous future.

Britain is a country that is very good when it comes to services.

Completing the internal market around services will play to our own strengths and will create more opportunities for our law firms, our accountancy firms, our insurance companies.

Another practical example is ecommerce, an area in which Britain is very successful. At the moment there are fewer Europeans online as in Britain.

The more European people that come online and we complete the digital market in services … so potentially you might have a small company based in Liverpool selling to 500 million people.

That is transformational for that company, and for this generation that is internet savvy, hyperconnected, and used to eworld at their fingertips.

At the moment most successful internet companies or ecommerce companies in the UK end up selling early.

If you speak to venture capitalists, you will find that one reason they end up selling early is that they do very well in the UK but cannot grow because of all of the challenges around European markets.

So it becomes more sensible to sell themselves to Facebook or Google or a big US company.

Now if Britain, with its special status and a leading member in the EU, were to drive that completion of the digital services market, I would bet you that the next Google, the next Facebook or the next Apple will be a UK company.

 

ON HIS OWN EUROSCEPTICISM

I am not an avid fan of the EU, let’s get that straight.

I think the EU can be incredibly annoying and frustrating from a national government perspective, but after thinking about it quite hard I came to the view that it’s a bit like being in a relationship: if all you ever looked at was what you gave and the sacrifices you are making, but not the give-and-take element, most of us would end up as singletons.

 

ON BORDERS

This is a generation that has the world at its fingertips. They carry everything on their smartphone.

Through Facebook they communicate with three times the population of Europe. On Instagram they can meet and communicate with lots of people.

Boundaries mean something different to them. They can watch a movie on their phone and when they travel to Spain, Italy, Portugal or wherever, they can take their world with them.

For them, the very idea that we would be in a situation of re-erecting barriers when they are living in a world where the barriers mean less and less online would be going back to the past. It’s not the future.

 

ON TAKING BACK CONTROL

I am a minister in the education department, the EU is not an education competency.

When I speak to my fellow colleagues who are ministers, there are lots of frustrations, some of which don’t make sense.

But the way I have looked at the issue of control, which this is about, I find that just  because you do not have total control doesn’t mean you have no control at all.

Not having total control doesn’t mean that you should stomp off.

I’ve been quite bemused to hear the argument that we do have control over our own laws.

I’ve been an MP now for five and a half years. We vote ten times a week. If we do not have any control over our own laws, then what have we been doing.

 

ON PERSUADING GRANDPARENTS

We also need to have a cross-generational campaign.

The way for this campaign to really come alive is to have those grandparents talking to their children about what they think the future of this country, and for the children to be sharing with their parents and grandparents.

 

ON BREXIT

The Leave campaign wants us to leave but is not willing to explain what it means to leave.

The central question that has to be answered is if the country were to vote for Brexit, will we have more control or feel less secure next day. That’s the central question.

 

ON FARAGE AND GALLOWAY TOGETHER

I was surprised, extremely, extremely surprised.

Nigel and George, two men. One got turfed out of his seat, the other failed to get a seat in parliament. If that’s what they think is the best they have to offer, then good luck to them.

They have both been rejected by the electorate in quite an emphatic way.

 

ON BORIS JOHNSON AND MICHAEL GOVE

I think it’s right that it’s a referendum. Everybody has a vote, right. So this is not a situation where MPs are going to be voting in Westminster on the voters’ behalf. At the end of the day Boris Johnson has a vote. Michael Gove has a vote.

David Cameron has a vote, George Osborne has a vote … but the important thing is that none of the individual votes carries more weight than anyone else in the country.

Politicians have generally got quite tough skins and politicians are used to the rough and tumble of political debate.

We are going to have big debate. We should have big debate; it’s a big issue. But at the end of it we have got to be grown up and the result is the result.

 

ON CAMERON STAYING WHATEVER THE RESULT

The prime minister has made this position absolutely clear and I endorse that.

This is not about him, this is about the British people.

He is the first British prime minister to have offered, promised and delivered an in-out referendum. Now it’s over to the British people. It’s not about David Cameron it’s about the British people having their say.

 

ON A RESHUFFLE

We’ve got a distraction from the real issue … people talking about a reshuffle that no one has officially mentioned, or about the Conservative grassroots reform. I think these are distractions from the main issues.

 

ON PROJECT FEAR

The people who were totally happy for businesses to endorse the Conservative party during the general election campaign, when the same businesses endorse one side of the [referendum]campaign they now say it is the ’elites’.

The same people who say that Europe is sclerotic and holding us back then say we can get whatever we want because we are the fifth largest economy in the world.

If it’s held us back that much, how come we are the fifth largest economy in the world?

The same people that say we can negotiate a trade deal very easily because we are the fifth largest economy in the world don’t answer the question as to why the US and China, which are much bigger countries than we are, do not have a trade deal yet with the EU.

So these are the questions that we need to be bottoming out, rather than misinformation and process.

 

ON HIS UPBRINGING

I was born in the UK, I grew up in Ghana and then came back.

My view from that perspective is of the Commonwealth and the great memories that we have and Ghana is still a very proud and active member of the Commonwealth.

So having lived outside the country I don’t think has actually changed me. If anything at all I should probably be on the other side from that perspective.

But I also worked in the City, I worked in business, I know that the world is organised into trading blocs, right, you are either in the Americas block, the Asia Pacific block or the European bloc.

If you are going to cut yourself adrift from that bloc then you have got to be confident that what we have here – which is a series of agreements painstakingly stitched together over 40 years – that if we are going to unstitch it and then restitch it then what we end up with is a lot better.

I’m very concerned about the limbo, the risk for this easyJet generation.

When companies are uncertain and stop investing, the people who lose out first are  the young and the inexperienced.

I don’t want us to be gambling their future with this referendum.

If you are 30 today or 40, as I am, the next ten to 20 years are probably your most productive.

You don’t want your country spending most of that time over trade deals and not ending up in a better situation than where you were.

 

ON RUNNING FOR LEADER?

No, I think we have got an excellent prime minister.

 

WOULD HE EVER THROW HIS HAT INTO THE RING?

No, no. But if there was a promotion on offer I wouldn’t say no…