Europe – 25th February 2016
I have three children and five grandchildren. The decision that the United Kingdom will take on Thursday 23rd June will, for good or ill, affect the future not just of Europe but of the World in which they will live. The decision facing our Country therefore matters to me very personally indeed. While at the end of the day this comes down to individual judgement and my wife, Suzy, for example may well not end up sharing my own view and my own decision,
I have been asked whether I shall be campaigning for “in” or for “out” and the answer is “no”. I think that over the next three months there will be more than enough people peddling mis-information on both sides of the divide and from all parts of the political spectrum. I hope that the voice of the British people will rise above that and make itself heard one way or the other but decisively when it comes to the vote. I do, though, recognise that I have a clear duty to indicate to those who elected me what I am thinking myself and why.
The agreement reached in Brussels – and it is a legally binding agreement that will be deposited with the United Nations – that the Prime Minister finally reached with the others countries of the EU last Friday night does not by any means deliver all that many would have wished for. All contested negotiations end up with compromise, however, and given the need to secure the approval of twenty-seven other countries, many of which have diametrically opposed aspirations and interests to our own, David Cameron has probably generated the best deal that could have been achieved and one that is better than, however scathing his die-hard Europhobic critics may be, most serious commentators had anticipated. As one who has never been a fully paid-up “Cameroon” I give credit where credit is due. First, Mr. Cameron is giving the British people the first and only opportunity since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister to determine whether or not we remain a Member State of the European Union. Second, I do not believe that any other Party Leader, back to and including Margaret Thatcher, could or would have done a better job of negotiation in his or her Nation`s interests. The question is, therefore, does the outcome of these talks justify our remaining, on the renegotiated basis, within the European Union?
Taken in isolation, possibly not. Taken in context, probably yes. The curmudgeonly “one foot in the grave” generation, those who tend to say that “things” and “Britain” are not what they used to be and that “We didn`t fight a war for this” (correct: we may have lived through all or part of that war but it was our parents that fought it for us!) are never going to accept that no country is any longer an island and that whether we like it or not we now inhabit a global and multicultural village and market place. Our children and our children`s children are in many ways more cosmopolitan, more tolerant and certainly much more widely-travelled than we have been. The finesse has to be to maximise the security and the opportunities for business and pleasure offered by membership of a wider community while at the same time maintaining the sovereignty, the customs and the tradition of our still United kingdom and seeking to mitigate the worst excesses of European bureaucracy and the spendthrift nature of an institution whose accounts have not been signed off within living memory.
The agreement reached by the Prime Minister will make a modest contribution to the latter but it has to be regarded, if we are to remain members of the club, as work in progress. It is clear that over the past few weeks David Cameron has forged some useful alliances and encountered not only opposition but also the support of those other countries that want to enjoy a common market without the federal objectives of “ever closer union”. If we are to stay inside the European tent then those friends will be needed in the months and years to come.
The challenges posed by mass migration and a tide of refugees have not been solved but I do not believe that they will be resolved either by a Britain acting in isolation and self-interest. The risks posed by extremism under the guise of Daesh and the resurgence of what amounts to a neo-soviet union will also not be answered by the United Kingdom trying to go it alone and saying, as some do, that “we will still be members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ”. That, were we to quit the EU, dangerously underestimates the very real threat that NATO itself faces as a result of the tensions between the Russian Federation and Turkey. It is claimed, almost certainly correctly, that there is nothing that Mr. Putin would enjoy more than the twin disintegrations of the EU and NATO.
More domestically we cannot assume that the UK will remain united if we “Vote Leave”. Indeed, if as seems likely Scotland as a country votes to stay in the EU while a majority of the rest of Great Britain votes to quit then it is a probability bordering on certainty that the Scots will hold another referendum, leave the Union and seek to re-join the EU. While I know some who take the “good riddance – they cost us far too much money” approach I think that there is little doubt that the UK would be poorer and weaker without Scotland.
There is an element of “the devil that you think you know” about my approach but I have, to date, heard nothing other than broad-brush assertions that “we can forge our own trade deals” and “we can manage our own security” and “we will be able to control immigration” from those already campaigning to leave, with nothing of substance to suggest how or why those that we have so recently walked away from will then be bending over backwards to embrace us like prodigal sons. The argument that “they need us more than we need them” does not cut much ice in the real world outside Westminster. I do not think that I am prepared to take that leap of faith on behalf of those that I care about.
As one of those who fought the campaign to “Save The Pound” I am relieved that Britain is not, and will not become, a member of the Eurozone and I believe that the undertakings that the Prime Minister has won and that will protect our vital financial institutions and business represent a real and significant achievement. Neither is Britain a member of the Schengen no-frontiers zone. We were right not to join and we have a power, outside, to protect our own borders that those within Schengen can now only envy.