THE EMOTIONAL CASE FOR CONTINUED EU MEMBERSHIP
June 20, 2016
Amidst an increasingly rancorous campaign characterised by claim and counter-claim over economic, sovereignty and security considerations in this short essay I seek unashamedly to make the emotional case for our continued membership of the European Union. I recognise that invariably this is regarded as the exclusive preserve of those who would have us leave.
Nevertheless, there are positive reasons for the UK’s membership of the EU based on universal values and a shared civilisation. It is this shared heritage which gives us the glue that holds the entire Western world together.
We have now enjoyed over seventy years of peace in the heart of our continent; my eight-year old son will, I trust, be the third generation of Field menfolk who have not had to go to war.
Of course, war is sometimes a necessary evil and when Britain followed Winston Churchill back into the midst of a struggle for the soul of Europe, it was out of the realisation that what happens there is vital to us on this island. The Chamberlain vision, encompassing isolation borne of weakness was not, in the end, for us.
It is one of the miracles of the last seventy years that Europe has become reconciled after centuries of warfare. I am in fact living proof of that, with an English father and a German mother hailing from Silesia, now in Poland, who married only seventeen years after the war ended.
I accept that for those without the continental blood I am proud to have in my veins, it may be difficult to attach any romantic ideal to Europe. However, nobody could fail to be moved by the sight over three decades ago at Verdun of French President Francois Mitterand grasping German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s hand as they stood together in commemoration of those who died in the fiercest battles of the Great War, a campaign which began one hundred years ago last month.
I know it may not be fashionable to say this but the debate about Brexit is surely not simply a matter of what might be best for us here in the UK looked at in isolation, but needs also to take account of Britain’s role as a lynchpin of the West, bridging the cultural and economic outlook of the Americas and that of our own, European, continent.
After World War Two, when Europe lay in ruins and its fate seemed as desperate as the Middle East’s does today, the British people courageously contributed to continental reconstruction hand-in-hand with our American allies. This rebuilding was institutional, cultural and moral as well as physical. As a result I believe we have ongoing obligations and responsibilities as part of the international community. Why did we put Europe back together again? Because we recognised that we will have no security and prosperity if our own continent is poor and divided against itself and the prosperity that has resulted from that is living proof that we are all “Better Together”.
To boil the Leave/Remain decision down simply to one of self-interest alone would, in my view, be a dereliction of duty to our fellow Europeans and to the entire Western World, especially against a backdrop of the continent’s present difficulties. Not only that but today’s darkening global economic clouds and the threat of international terrorism indicate how interconnected and interdependent our interests are with other nations.
The traditional Eurosceptic response to any claim that the EU might have a role to play in countering the security challenges of globalisation or instability on its borders is that NATO does this job quite adequately, thank you. However, today’s challenges are unarguably more complex than those of the Cold War, where a military response and alliance suited our own national security interests. Even in a Cold War-type conflict such as Ukraine, NATO made it clear fairly quickly that there was no military solution. It was an EU diplomatic initiative that resulted in the imposition of trade embargoes and effective economic sanctions.
In the areas of serious organised crime, counter-terrorism, money-laundering and drugs and people trafficking, there is hugely fruitful EU-wide cooperation recognising the cross-border nature of the threats. Whilst we retain opt-outs, the rarity of their use is instructive and indeed only last autumn parliament voted at the behest of the Home Office to opt back in to a series of measures that provided our citizens with EU-wide protections. For our nation to go it alone in these areas would require massive additional new resourcing and duplication of efforts already underway.
Today in the UK we do enjoy the benefits of European unity while we should also appreciate that the Special Status that our government has recently negotiated builds on a bespoke deal we have long enjoyed in the EU. The EU is a club that has vastly expanded eastwards in the past decade or so – at the UK’s insistence. Its founding principles reflect British values of free trade, a massive single market and open competition for goods and, increasingly, services. Moreover, it is an organisation whose other Members have granted the UK permanent exemption from both the Euro and Schengen area. So we play a full role in those areas of Europe we want, but avoid those that do not fit. We can lead, without getting sucked in. We can make Europe work for Britain and if problems arise, we are at the table to push our own solutions.
Frankly over the past four or five centuries it has never been the British way to walk away from international difficulties. Not for us the road of isolationism – crossing the street when international troubles brew. Instead our national instinct, one I am confident remains present in the hearts of today’s generation of Britons, is to play a full role on the global stage. We cannot deny the reality that our exit from the EU at this dangerous juncture would precipitate a huge crisis of economic, diplomatic and political confidence across our continent – and this would equally impact our own United Kingdom.
Let’s face facts: this nation’s proud freedom, security and prosperity will always hinge upon displaying a proper respect for the fortunes of our neighbours and allies.