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.

14 Comments

  1. It is so sad that my own people, the British, are incapable of understanding how the European Union has been such an amazing force for good right from its embryonic beginnings with the cooperation of Coal and Steel between European nations.

    The British have always misunderstood the purpose of collaboration between the European Powers since the end of the Second World War. They have, in general always seen it as an economic club, a free trade area if you will, where British businesses make money. That’s why they wanted to join it in the first place, because they did not want to be missing out on all that lovely trade with their European neighbours especially as they wouldn’t have to pay all those silly export prices.

    Closer political ties were always seen as a necessary evil in order to keep having access to that lovely European market and even now, many Britons still want us to return to those halcyon days where we just have lovely trade, without all that political and legal nonsense. But the politics, as far as my countrymen are concerned, have gone too far. We owned a quarter of the globe at one point don’t you know, and we have reached the point, as far as the average Joe is concerned, where losing much of our sovereignty is a price not worth paying for the trade , As a result UKIP is having a field day here at the ballot box.

    Of course, my fellow Britons fail to realize, we can never be great again, not in the way we were. Not without causing another global war or without breaking a few rules on Human rights. Let’s also not forget, in the past, our crimes against humanity in nations across the globe are, or should be, a source of great shame to us. All European nations have their atrocities of which they too should be ashamed.

    Closer Economic and political ties are not simply about binding nations together for the sake of it. It is about preventing European nations starting global wars, particularly against one another. Our great grandfathers and great great grandfathers believed that enough was enough and decided that, slowly and some might say sneakily, to draw the European nations together. Why sneaky? Because if people were told from the beginning how it would all end up, it probably would not have happened. Great vision is often only limited to a few people. That’s not to say sneaky is right every time, most times it’s not, but how do you get your child to take their medicine if they do not want it? You wrap it up in sweets and tell them it’s a treat.

    It would, I think, be impossible to persuade the British people by logic of how the European Union is worth the pain. Look at Nick Clegg’s valiant attempt against the one dimensional Nigel Farage. I do not want a referendum, because I fear it would see my country take a backward step into the dark ages. Our economy may survive, but the world would become a more unstable place. We, as a nation, would become more isolated and insular, and Real Politick would once again become the dominant approach to our global view.

    The European Union needs reform, no question and I am the first to argue for democratic and social change in the EU, but I am fearful that my countrymen will, mostly out of ignorance and false patriotic pride, will pull us out from the very thing that has kept Europe safe for more than fifty years,

    UKIP have won their first MP. They may win another soon. I fear for my nation. I fear for our democracy and human rights. I fear that misunderstood patriotism and rampant jingoism will destroy our country and the peace that we have built up as a family of nations since that brutal and world changing war that spawned some of the biggest forces for good the world has ever seen, namely the UN and the European Union.

    Our ancestors did not trust their children to keep the peace as separate isolated nations. why? Because they did not trust themselves anymore. I know that We British have probably reached the point of no return on Europe by allowing ourselves to become enmeshed in our own ego-centrism and full of our own self-importance. We have become victims of our lack of vision, not just for ourselves, but also for the world.

    That said, Britain can be and has been a force for change and a force for good in the world over the past 60 years. But we have lost our way. I do not want a referendum on Europe, because my countrymen seem to have lost sight of the real significance and purpose of the European Union. We will end up withdrawing from the European Union and at that point I will be ashamed to call myself British. Being separate or together in a union has never been about whether a country is capable of going it alone or not. Some can and some can’t. It has always been about helping us remain close to one another so we can bring about peace and prosperity, not just in Europe, but also for the rest of the world. We stronger here together than we can ever be alone.

    We are not all rabid Europhobes……..

  2. You know what, you might be right. Good thing I’m arranging an alternate EU passport; Irish grandfaather FTW.

  3. A multispeed EU with a core group & Goodbye Britain

    http://kielspratineurope.eu/?p=1099

  4. Paul Lettan

    As a convinced and committed European, I am sad to say that I agree with you Jon. The UK has become an intransigent member of the EU and any referendum would end up with a “yes” to withdrawal from the EU. Pro EU sentiment has consolidated at about 32-33% and could at best muster no more than 43-45% in any plebiscite. While I do not see Cameron holding a clear In-Out Referendum, Miliband may well do so.

    To prosper and grow, the EU needs a new political settlement which will lead to a new Treaty and closer integration. The EU should not be held back by a recalcitrant UK. It would seem that a consensus is emerging to sideline the UK and that is as it should be.

    My 15 year old son and I have regular discussions about the EU, he is a fervent Federalist and very pro-EU. Yet even he recognizes that the UK may soon leave the EU. He is already making plans to study in the Netherlands and even accepts he may emigrate there should Britain leave. My younger sons are looking at France and Spain as possible future destinations.

    The EU should establish a protocol for dealing with European Territories outside the EU and offer citizenship to those British, Norwegian and Swiss nationals who wish to become, or in the UK case, remain, European citizens.

  5. I have more to say on this, but really, the @eurodale graphic ought to be beneath one’s dignity.

    Peace between current member states? What happens when Croatia joins in a few months? Weren’t they part of Yugoslavia when it, you know, declared on Slovenia?

  6. @Craig – agree.

    @Neil – I think this award is more valid for what it’s done to the 27 EU Member States, rather than the Balkans.

    @Martin – do you think a referendum really resets it, if it would be a Yes to stay in? Imagine a 55-45 result – would it really solve much for a reasonable time?

    @Stuart – I wish I could agree with you. But it feels to me that any pro-EU forces have been on the back foot for so long that they would be in no position to fight. The entire framing of the debate and the media coverage have been so skewed so as to be all but hopeless I think, and the Yes side would have to be so begrudging in its support – it would be like Yes to AV all over again. Urgent referendum planning should be happening on the Yes side, but I can’t see it or who is doing it.

    @Charles_m – it depends on how you define federalism. I think neither Barroso not Verhofstadt is a federalist in a true sense (i.e. a believer in genuine, decentralised, multi level democracy). Both are more like centralising techno functionalists. The Barroso / Verhofstadt vision is a nightmare, but it’s not federalism (even if they call it that – wrongly). I agree it’s unlikely for Yes people to suddenly emerge from the woodwork.

  7. Charles_m

    Since the endgame of all the EU machinations is a federal Europe with no in between then there is absolutely no doubt that a UK referendum will be a No. While I have met people who regard the EU with some enthusiasm, I never met one person who would go federal as per the Verhofstadt / Barosso nightmare.
    Yes voters will not suddenly appear out of the woodwork as suggested above in sufficient numbers.

  8. I’m far less pessimistic than you Jon. I too want an in/out referendum. But, because I think we will win. If there was a real threat to the UK’s EU membership then there would be sufficient voices to stand up to the No lobby. The Yes lobby is silent because it isn’t sufficiently under threat at the moment. I think if it came to the crunch we’d be more than a match for the sceptics and right-wing press.

  9. Pingback: Bloggingportal.eu/blog » Blog Archive » Week in Bloggingportal: We won the Peace Prize!

  10. Courageous. Thanks for these words Jon.

  11. Martin

    The situation in the UK has become increasingly untenable. Since the Iraq invasion, Blair and the rest of the Labour party turned their backs on the EU and certainly made a strategic decision to stop speaking up for the EU. Only the Lib Dems made a concerted stand, however in coalition their voices are muted, because they have been associated with some unpopular measures and the need to limit displays of government disunity.

    Whatever the reasons, the anti EU viewpoint goes unchallenged and is now standard fare in BBC reporting and previously positive papers such as the Guardian.

    This situation is the direct result as a continued policy of UK exceptionism from the 80s onwards. Those of us who consider ourselves European, would be advised to seek alternative passports.

    An IN/OUT referendum would reset the clock and either result would be good for Europe. What would be most damaging would be continued negativism and vetoes from London,preventing progress and a positive response to international and internal issues in the EU.

    An exit from the EU may be needed for the UK to face realities. Whether the EU would ever accept a re-entry is a moot point. If re-entry were accepted the conditions required, such as the democratic structures of government, would be most welcome.

  12. Geekeconomist: I agree, it is very difficult to explain how the EU could have intervened in former Yugoslavia. The Member States, and the UK in particular, have blocked the EU from having the powers needed to intervene decisively in such crises. Conclusion: all the more strange to credit the EU as a peacemaking institution, surely?

    As for the UK, indeed, London’s position towards the Balkan conflicts was no lesson in peacemaking. But that doesn’t detract from the absurdity of giving the prize the EU in the least. Put it this way, would you give the prize to the UN HQ present during the siege of Sarajevo? Probably not. So why give it to an institution that wasn’t even there?

    IMHO, the best way for the recipients to receive this prize would be to accept it as a timely reminder of why the EU was founded and a clear signal of what it should, and with enough will, could, become in the future. But not, in any reasonable estimation, an assessment of what it has already achieved.

    If they did that, they’d be able to knock back the sceptics that accuse the EU of taking undue credit, whilst simultaneously making the case for greater integration on foreign policy. Chances of that happening?

  13. And I’d like to add these two issues under “British obstructionism”:
    * According to votewatch.eu’s analysis of voting in Council: “Of the 27 EU governments, the United Kingdom voted against the majority most often”. http://www.votewatch.eu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/votewatch-annual-report-july-2012-final-7-july.pdf
    * UK’s opposition to a permanent headquarters for EU military operations (supported by France, Germany, Poland, Italy and Spain) http://euobserver.com/defence/113569

  14. Geekeconomist

    Those ones claiming that the EU had to act in former Yougoslavia during war, could detail exactly how it should have intervened and what was the position of UK on such a scenario? And on the hypothesis to confere the EU power in such matter (defence) and endowing it with a military corp? Was the UK leader of a proposal in such sense that was rejected by rest of EU members? In lack of such elements all of this blaming is just groundless allegations in combination with denial on positive role of EU in granting peace to Europe. EU is not Harry Potter with magic wand to solve all the problem of the world and scapegoat to be blamed for not achieving that. Before EU could even intervene on an issue it has to be empowered to do so by member states. How much empowerement came from UK in the 40 years of its membership?

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