The Blog

Britain Should Remain in the European Union

Britain should remain the EU because we live in reality, not in some romantic fantasy where the UK is a lone power in a world of subservient nations. That is an imperial thought process which went out of fashion decades ago.

Since the start of the European referendum campaign, we have been exposed to a serious dilution of the quality of political debates presented to the voter by those seeking #Brexit. At this point I'm sure many who support the UK leaving the EU will have already pressed X in the top-right, however it is a point which needs making given the quality of argument determines the health of our democracy. Put simply, the more personal or fanciful an argument is, the less likely it is to frame a healthy debate. We only need to look to Donald Trump to see how it can destroy the thing it is seeking to advance. Also, so called 'Project Fear' in the Scottish independence referendum arguably helped save the Union (for now), but in so doing destroyed the sense of togetherness which it was aiming to safeguard. Even the Conservative Party victory last year may end up leading to major internal divisions that may cost the UK's position in the EU. Each of these victories has been secured through hostile rhetoric that targeted their opponents on a fearful and/or personal level. It does seem to be a tactic of those seeking #Brexit! (See any comments below this opinion piece for examples).

Those supporting #Brexit are very much ideologically committed to the idea regardless of the real world implications of Britain leaving the EU. For example, Aaron Banks has argued that "£4,300 per household is a bargain basement price for the restoration of national independence and safe, secure borders" . This remark came in for serious criticism for appearing to be aloof and detached from the realities of most of the British people. Also of serious concern is the approach of those supporting #Brexit towards Northern Ireland. Theresa Villiers has said that "The peace process was delivered by the hard work of Northern Ireland's leaders and successive UK and Irish governments, supported by the US. There is strong commitment in both the UK and Ireland to continue to work together for a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, and leaving the EU will not change that" . However, this is not a position held by Enda Kenny, who argued that "Common membership of the EU project is part of the glue holding that transition process together" . Given the treaty which has helped bring an end of hostilities to Northern Ireland is an international treaty legally supported by the European Union, it would be highly dangerous for the continuation of stability if one of the parties were to withdraw from it. Withdrawing from the European Union does indeed represent a significant risk to this area, and it isn't a conspiracy or part of 'Project Fear' to point it out.

Politically, in the European referendum the Labour Party have been preoccupied with their own problems. It has a leader who is giving half-hearted support, whilst those members supporting Brexit are content to live in the past, endlessly quoting Tony Benn or Hugh Gaitskell to support their position. However, there is nothing social democratic in isolating ourselves from the world. Benn and Gaitskell are products of their respective times, and today the Left needs to remain united with others across the EU. Granted, many rightly point out that the EU and Europe are different things. However, the EU is the mechanism which has held Europe together through peace, trade, and learning for decades. Cooperation is a fundamental value of social democratic politics, and to abandon that is a very strange position to adopt. Rather, the Labour Party needs to push hard for Britain to remain in the EU and, by doing so, be relevant to Europe.

However, the greatest threat to Britain remaining in the EU is ignorance. As I have argued in other places, the media is the mechanism that connects politicians to the voter. It is the channel through which political arguments are made, and so is vital to any democratic civil society. However, it is also dangerous if the media fail to educate the voter about the realities of #Brexit. Chris Graying has used the media (specifically, the Andrew Marr Show ) to argue once we've left things will remain the same. Yet we haven't heard the counter argument that such a position is not only economically imprudent it is also intellectually disingenuous. Furthermore, Boris Johnson has appeared on the Radio Four Today show , however his failure to articulate a coherent message is seen as part of his 'Boris' brand. Put simply, his bluster is considered part of his charm, but on an issue such as this, it is unwelcome. We have yet to hear from the Leave side how Britain will function outside of the European Union. We do know, however, that a whole host of organisations (such as the IMF and the Bank of England) have cautioned against it, alongside a Treasury report with support from the LSE and others. Facts, not bluster or guesswork.

In closing, I would like to make a few comments about the Obama intervention. Obama's comments that Britain would be at the 'back of the queue' were not a threat. They have been taken as a threat by the Leave side to argue we are being 'bullied'. Rather, Obama's comments were a warning. He was warning us that we'd go to the back of the queue because that is the reality. It is possible to warn a friend of danger without threatening to inflict it. These arguments against #Brexit are not 'Project Fear'. These are warnings of reality. And as I said at the start of this opinion piece, reality has already been sacrificed in the debate by those preferring to bang their ideological drum and bury their heads in the sand.

Britain should remain the EU because we live in reality, not in some romantic fantasy where the UK is a lone power in a world of subservient nations. That is an imperial thought process which went out of fashion decades ago.