THE BLOG

The Message Is Getting Through: The Patriotic Option Is to Stay in and Lead

16/03/2015 17:12 GMT | Updated 16/05/2015 10:59 BST

"We are part of the community of Europe, and we must do our duty as such" - Lord Salisbury 1888

For Britain, this is the week of the budget - the last artillery barrage before the election begins. In an parochial campaign criticised for its lack of national vision, the Europe story has been deliberately sidelined in order to starve Ukip of publicity and paper over Conservative ideological cracks. This short-changes a wiser electorate which wants its leaders to step up.

British Influence was established to advocate this case: for Britain the patriotic option regarding our relations with Europe is not to leave the EU but, in fact, to step up to an historic duty namely to help lead a continent immersed in a sea of troubles together with our allies. This was a critical insight, not merely because 200 years of British foreign policy has aimed at ensuring a peaceful Europe, but that on matters of security, prosperity and values Europe is united on what is effectively a British political direction. The only confusion is why Westminster, Whitehall and what was Fleet Street is so myopic that either they can't see it or worse can't explain it to voters who are just 7 weeks away from choosing a new government.

On security, Britain, as the second major military power in Europe, must face up to our duty to ensure that all powers step up to their responsibility to defend the continent against Russian revanchism, Middle Eastern barbarism and North African chaos. Disputes over meeting the 2% Nato target disguise the failure of the political establishment to educate the public about the fearful ring of fire burning only three hours flight from Heathrow.

On prosperity, breaking down the remaining barriers to trade in what is the largest and richest market in the world is now official policy, confirmed last week in an event in London by the man charged with delivering it, Frans Timmermans. Such reforms will disproportionately favour the UK's digital and services economy leading to more jobs and growth particularly for the younger generation.

On values, the liberal underpinning of a continent once dominated by competing murderous ideologies faces its greatest challenge since the fall of the wall. Freedom, democracy and the rule of law are now under threat inside as well as outside the EU. Hungarian President, Victor Orban, seeks a Russian-style 'illiberal state', Turkey imprisons journalists and little support is given to Ukrainians desperate to sustain their wafer-thin liberation.

Whereas once Britain would have been at the forefront of all of these issues, it is dismaying that the UK is retreating on enforcing European security, indifferent about entrenching continental prosperity and tepid about defending the very British values which triumphed in 1945 and 1989.

We believe that this drift is not the fault of the British public, but squarely a problem with the establishment. Last week, the European Council for Foreign Relations in a new report argued that:

"The risk of Brexit is not driven by a Eurosceptic public but by a Europhobic elite. Britain's Europhobes have a powerful intellectual framework, wealthy backers, and advocates in the media, the House of Commons, and even the Cabinet. British Euroscepticism is an elite project, and there is a battle between the Europhobic elite and pro- European forces to win over a relatively agnostic public."

This elite cannot say with any conviction why Britain should stay in or what Britain's future will be on the outside. This continental drift, far from driving the people into further euroscepticism has instead fuelled their increasing disillusionment with the political class. Eager for leadership they get none. Our polling reveals this with appalling clarity. Whilst 65% are proud of their country and wish it to stand tall in the world, 65% believe Britain has no influence in Europe. The reason is that their leaders fail to lead and their media fail to mediate. Despite this, support for EU membership is at a five-year high (a recent poll showed 45% wanting to stay in compared to 35% who wanted to leave).

British Influence believes that the public will increase their support for continued membership as long as the voices from the centre have a compelling message. In short, we believe that the public has a choice between two futures: a Great Britain or a Little England. Never has this choice been more stark.

Our allies urge us to resume our position as a fully-engaged change-maker in a continent which needs our values now more than ever. If not, the Little England alternative will come to pass because if the UK leaves Europe, Scotland will surely leave the UK. The vaunted independence for which the elite is prepares to sacrifice its European influence will be a phantom as business is forced to follow laws over which their government has no say. The tragedy is that this choice is false. The UK can have the best of both worlds - both trading in the EU and the wider world, with a seat at the top tables of power guaranteed.

It is not only the public through the opinion polls who see this truth when their leaders cannot. Slowly, the penny is dropping with the very establishment that has let the rot set in too far. The Liberal Democrats have advocated the patriotic case for our EU membership for years. The Labour Party are doing so following important speeches by their shadow Europe Minister, Pat McFadden and the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

The Conservatives believe in this case but are too shy so far to make it. However, soon after the election half the party will coalesce around this vision. Perhaps then, all party leaderships can reach a consensus which in truth is already present but unsaid. What is certain is that the British Influence message is getting through.