Australia welcomes Britain’s strong role in Europe. The decision on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union is a matter for the British people. But from Australia’s perspective, we would welcome a vote for the UK to remain in the EU on 23 June.
Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has made this clear, saying “The EU is an enormous economic and political entity and from our point of view – you might say from our selfish point of view – having a country to whom we have close ties and such strong relationships … as part of the EU is definitely an advantage. So if the British people, in their wisdom, decide to stay in the European Union, then we would welcome that.”
Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, agrees, saying “Australia believes it would be in our interests if a strong United Kingdom remained a part of the European Union. The EU is a significant trading partner for us, a strong UK as part of the European Union would be in Australia’s interests.”
There are some who say a UK outside the EU would have a closer relationship with its Commonwealth partners, including Australia. But the UK does not need to choose between Europe and the Commonwealth. Its membership of the EU enhances, rather than detracts, from its relationship with Commonwealth countries, including Australia.
We value the UK’s like-minded voice influencing EU positions towards our interests. For example, the UK champions open markets and free trade. It was influential in the European Commission’s agreement to begin free trade agreement negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. From within the EU, it can continue to play a leadership role in ensuring the EU remains open to the rest of the world.
Much of the referendum campaign has focused on the issue of immigration, including the suggestion that a UK outside the EU could adopt a points-based immigration system like Australia’s. It is important to remember that immigration is not a negative: it is good for economic growth. Australia’s points-based system is not used to reduce net migration. In fact, our immigration system brings in nearly 200,000 migrants per year, to a population of 24 million.
The UK Government’s migration target – to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands – will remain a challenge regardless of the referendum outcome. There is currently no member of the European single market which does not also have to accept free movement of EU citizens.
Australia will continue to talk to the British Government about ways in which we could liberalise movement between our countries. But this is a separate issue to whether or not Britain should remain a member of the EU.
The close connection between our countries – through our people, trade, investment, history and culture – will continue regardless of the outcome on 23 June. But Australia values the UK’s membership of the EU, and would welcome a vote to remain.