A special edition of Eurogazing! for Europe Day 2016
From the Chair
Sitting on the fence is an uncomfortable posture and can do lasting damage to what one values a great deal!
The condign warnings from the Electoral Commission and the Charities Commission about the involvement of charities such as our own have scared off many from participating as fully as they might wish in the debate on the Referendum. The risk is that by overtly taking one side or the other the organisation could become regarded as a party that should register with the Electoral Commission with all the regulation, reporting and restriction on sources of funds (e.g. more than £5k from foreign sources) that entails.
Yet WPCT should not sit on the fence and, as your Chair, not only do I feel an obligation to take a lead but also, in my capacity as Secretary of the European Movement it would be difficult for me to keep silent! It hope that you feel that it is appropriate, therefore, on Europe Day to speak out boldly.
I shall not test your patience by uttering platitudes about the significance of the result of the Referendum but without being apocalyptic about it the result of a Brexit would be a depressed economy and market wracked by uncertainty for as long as negotiations on the details of departure lasted (at least two years) – something on which everyone is agreed including those who wish to leave. The potential implications do not need much imagination to contemplate. First, the precipitation of a further independence referendum in Scotland (reported to me as inevitable by a former Scottish Parliamentary colleague) which the SNP would exploit as the vote to leave would have been carried on English votes against the wishes of the majority in Scotland – with a likely win this time for Scotland going alone. Perhaps worse, as has been pointed out by Brendan Donnelly Director of the Federal Trust (http://fedtrust.co.uk/brexit-the-northern-irish-dimension/), is the advent of a large land border between a non-EU state (northern Ireland) and Eire – which would have to be policed not only against smuggling but also illegal immigration (the new route to the UK would be through the Irish ports) and a possible resumption of hostilities as the Good Friday Agreement and the predication of peace are based on both the UK and Eire being in the EU.
You have to admire the Brexiters for their courage (even if the same respect is not reserved for their intellect or logic). To take on board these real threats as well as telling people that a reduction in their living standards, costlier holidays in Europe as the pound slides against sterling and the requirement of visas (if anyone doubts that the UK’s requirement for EU citizens to have visas would not be reciprocated by those countries imposing them on UK citizens just remember the way in which India reacted when we placed visa controls on their citizens) is an act of bravado – all on the basis that this search for “sovereignty” (whatever this means in today’s connected and interdependent world) is worth these very real costs to British citizens.
Eight former US Treasury Secretaries, the President of the USA himself, the Norwegians, the Swiss, the trades unions, the UK employers – the list is too long to mention – all these in the view of the Brexiters are wrong and they alone have a monopoly of wisdom and insight. I described this earlier as courage but, on reflection, I was wrong: this is not bravery but supreme arrogance. What angers me most, however, about passed over, discredited former and existing Cabinet members and the odd former Conservative leader as well as the cohorts of the old and comfortable who have their pensions covered and not an enormous future to which to look forward is that this vote is not about them but about our children and future generations (including the ones excluded by the Government’s refusal to allow the 16 and over to vote as they were able to in Scotland – is Scottish independence so much more important than our membership of the EU so that they should be excluded?).
Brexiters mostly do not have to worry about their pensions and if the stockmarket dives or we lose investment or the loss of jobs – their sins will be visited on their children who will pay the price of such folly. The US President made it clear that TTIP with the EU is the American priority – any separate deal with the UK if it was out of the EU would come only much later and could take years to conclude (it took Canada seven years to agree all the issues with the EU). Croatia is years away from conclusion. Recent speculation about Turkey’s possible membership – it first applied in 1987 and has got nowhere - has highlighted the 33 of the 35 chapters of the acquis communitaire that have to be fulfilled and Turkey is far off. Even back in 2006 European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the accession process will take at least until 2021 and we know that timetable is now wholly unrealistic. These are sobering lessons for any state wishing to join the EU. Major existing and potential investors in the UK have reminded us without equivocation that Brexit would jeopardise that investment and the jobs reliant on it (maybe it is the only thing which could see London property prices dive – fine so long as you do not live in London: Lord Lawson, major Brexiter, lives in France!). In early May the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that Japanese companies see the UK as a gateway to Europe. He pointed out that “British membership is also best for Japanese investment in the UK” and that more than 1,000 Japanese firms had invested in Britain securing some 140,000 jobs. Line Barack Obama he said that Tokyo is more interested in a trade deal with the EU as a block rather than “individual states”. These and other states, firms and individuals are friends of the UK – they want us to succeed – they are not stating the obvious out of malice or prejudice.
Security in these troubled times of terrorism is important to us all. So how will the Referendum decision impact on this? Currently, we are part of the Schengen Information System (SIS) but not part of the visa-free travel Schengen area. From what we have learned we have every right to be proud of our security services which have foiled many plots to commit atrocities here (more successfully than, sadly, in some other European countries). All acknowledge that it is information and intelligence that defeats those who wish us harm: SIS, Europol, Interpol and the sometimes informal co-operation that security services in Europe enjoy. Maybe a Brexit would not affect that – but why should we risk it? Certainly, us leaving the EU will not create a climate for enhanced co-operation but can only damage what we have already. How safely or arrogantly can we dismiss the views of Sir John Sawyers, who stepped down as head of MI6 in 2014, and Lord Evans, who led MI5 until three years ago, who made the claim in the Sunday Times that EU membership makes vital information more readily available? They make the rather obvious point that modern intelligence work relies on gathering large amounts of data on terrorists and cyber-attackers and that if Britain were not in the EU, the country's security forces would be unable to shape the terms for sharing that data. They fear that an agreement on data sharing reached without the UK would be too restrictive. For the Brexiters they reaffirm that the EU cannot make decisions that override the UK government on matters of national security. For those of us who believe in the strength of collective solidarity Sir John writes "If we leave the European Union, we will make it more difficult for our partner countries to hold together the fabric of the European Union, which has kept stability in Europe for the last 60 or 70 years, effectively since the Second World War. And so there's a risk of fragmentation, which in turn could lead to instability."
Who will decide this historic moment? My Maltese neighbour (who has a vote) does not feel comfortable exercising it. A French citizen contributing to our economy for many years living in the UK does not have that right. An Australian living here can decide our European future. Members of the House of Lords (usually disenfranchised) shares that privilege. Yet those 16 and 17 year olds whose futures will be so affected by the Referendum result will not have a say (despite it being regarded as sufficiently important for them to do so over the issue of Scottish independence as mentioned above). In a close result it could well be those who have no direct involvement in the impact of our EU membership will be the deciding factor.
What if we get it wrong? In the event of a Leave vote if it became apparent soon afterwards (as I believe it would) that a terrible mistake had been made, that we had collectively shot ourselves in the foot, could we ever again rejoin a successful EU? Possibly, but it would take years to negotiate; we would have to sign up to adopting the euro; we would not get anything like the current opt-outs we enjoy (eg complete exemption from all Justice & Home Affairs matters) and we would go back with our tail between our legs. The Brexiters seek to achieve what General de Gaulle managed for too long – to keep us out as not being worthy members of the club. The words of Walpole spring to mind when (rather like the public spirit at the beginning of the First World War) the British people clamoured for the disastrous war with Spain in 1739 (the so called War of Jenkins’ Ear of which he disapproved): “They may ring their bells now, before long they will be wringing their hands.” So it may well be if Brexit comes to pass.
Where is the faith angle? All the world’s great religions are transnational – their bounds are humanity and the relationship with the Divine, not curtailed by narrow nationalism. Those religions have often been the main and sometimes sole common adherence throughout the ages in times otherwise characterised by national division. The Roman Catholic Church was the unifying factor for hundreds of years – rightly or wrongly and with a variety of political motives Papal authority has been invoked and affected our lives – perhaps the schism of Henry VIII being the most obvious. In our village of Wissant, Nord Pas de Calais, to which we go regularly there is an ancient church with a plaque in both English and French explaining how it was from that very spot that on 1 December 1170 Thomas a Becket left from his audience with the Pope to return to England in the almost certain knowledge of his forthcoming martyrdom. He had decided that he was a loyal servant of the King but of God first. Islam brought its rich culture, gained originally from the Arabs and the East, to Spain and through the Ottoman Empire to large parts of Europe. The wonderful juxtaposition of the Abrahamic religions is demonstrated not just in the cathedral sitting in the midst of the mosque in Cordoba but in experiencing Christians carrying the cross along the Via Dolorosa while the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer surrounded by Jews in Jerusalem, sacred to all three religions. Narrow nationalism may have brought temporary and temporal benefits to its citizens but it has brought wars and genocide and has never satisfied the spiritual craving of those who seek higher guidance in their lives. The brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind does not know national or ethnic divisions – we should see the idealism behind the creation of the European Union in that context. We have always been stronger together rather than divided. So many of the standards of human rights, although secular, have their origins in the Judaeo-Christian ethic followed closely by Islam.
Those who disagree with my views about the merits of us remaining in the EU will, of course, justifiably point out that I am partisan, that I have emphasised the arguments in favour of our continuing membership rather than articulate the arguments against – often confusingly wielded by figures of equal authority on both sides. In such circumstances how will the voter decide? The confusion is manifested in the many who have said that they are yet to make up their minds and who do not believe the “facts” peddled by both sides of the argument. I have enormous sympathy. It is too late in invoke Burke’s representative democracy in which our politicians are paid to exercise their judgment on our behalf – the Referendum is a reality and the people, however ill-informed, not the politicians will be the arbiters.
Europe has always been about a balance of power. Many of our citizens were born during the Second World War and have seen co-operation replace confrontation in Europe. Germany already dominates the eurozone and the reason that so many other countries wish us to remain is for the UK to act as a counterbalance in the EU. Is it in our ultimate national interest to step away and allow Germany to become even more dominant (my fears are economic not military)? Beyond the British scepticism with Europe the continent itself in many countries is seeing a dangerous rise in the far-right. Narrow nationalism and xenophobia are again stalking our streets. We have instability on our borders in Syria and Ukraine and hardened attitudes towards migration. These are the hallmarks of conflict. The retreat behind borders is so often the precursor to foreign policy misjudgement and the tragedy that follows. Now is not the time to walk away from our influence, historic experience of global and European politics and values that we bring to Europe. Our destiny lies not in becoming a metaphoric off-shore island of the continent to which we belong but in using our gained wisdom and insight in shaping it for the better.