I’m going to start this blog entry with the assertion of my basic views, for these remain unchanged. For it is the circumstances that have altered, as I will explain.
Now, as before, I am strongly of the view that the UK should remain a Member State of the European Union, and that the European Union is stronger with Britain in it if Britain contributes sensibly. I also still have a deep scepticism of referendums – for I do not think fair and balanced debate in referendums is ever possible.
Yet today, for the first time, I have started to come to the conclusion that holding an in-out EU referendum in the UK is now a good idea – as a way to get the UK out of the EU. My only caveat is a personal one – I will need to find EU citizenship elsewhere, but that can be solved somewhere I hope.
The reason of course is today’s news that the EU has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The reaction in the UK has been almost entirely negative – how could they possibly make such an award? Farage and Hannan have been having a field day with their critique, and Farage has been getting lots of air time. The FCO and Labour could only manage the tersest of terse statements, and William Hague remained resolutely silent on the issue. The only MPs who can bring themselves to be positive are Denis MacShane, Chris Bryant and Angus MacNeil of the SNP. Not even David Miliband could muster up anything positive to say.
It has even become fair game to question the EU’s role in contributing to peace in Europe – yes, OK, the EU could have done more. The EU should have stepped in earlier in the Balkans. But the last 60 years have been the longest period of uninterrupted peace in more than 600 years of European history (@eurodale’s graphic sums it up).
I can’t be certain the EU guaranteed peace, and correlation does not equal causation, but in a historical comparison we’ve done damned well these last 60 years. The UK, as a Member State for almost 40 of those years, has done its bit too – helping post conflict reconstruction, playing its part in ensuring the reunification of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Is there no-one in the UK that can see this any more?
If there were to be another possible war in the Balkans tomorrow it would most likely be the UK cautioning against any action being taken, with the UK nominee to the Commission (Ashton) keeping the EU’s foreign policy weak. When the EU makes moves to find its way out of the financial crisis and stabilise the Eurozone it’s the UK Prime Minister who storms out in a huff. Whatever reforms of the EU institutions are going to be proposed in the next couple of years, the UK is going to oppose them. And on the day we should be able to take some distance and reflect on what we have achieved in sixty years no mainstream politician in the UK can find anything positive to say.
So, UK, hold your referendum, and opt for not so splendid isolation. It would be the wrong call for the UK, but the political future of the EU is more important than one reticent Member State. If constructive engagement is out of the question then have the vote and leave, and today seems to demonstrate that.