The Government say that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off in a reformed European Union. Of course as someone who wants Britain to remain in the EU I agree with them. Yet the statement also disappoints me: here’s why.
It’s because the statement is all about what’s best for Britain. What’s wrong with that? Well suppose we behaved in this way towards our families, our friends, our work colleagues. Always asking what is best for me. They might ask, well what about us? Don’t you ever think about what might be best for us also? If we all pursued our narrow selfish interests none of us would achieve our goals.
Countries aren’t people but much of the EU referendum debate is conducted in the same way. One side argues that Britain might be better off in, the other that Britain would be better off out. But what about everyone else? If Britain left the EU and as a result the European project collapsed – would that be good for Britain? What about the wider consequences? Do we no longer care what happens elsewhere in the world?
The great eighteenth century French statesman, Talleyrand used to claim that he had always acted in the interests of Europe because whatever was good for Europe was also be good for France. A strong Europe means a strong Britain too.
I was born just after the end of WWII. I can remember bomb sites, rationing and refugees; central and eastern Europe enslaved by tyranny; military dictatorships in the south and everywhere people poor and reeling from the effects of genocide and total war.
I wish I could take you back to Berlin in the 1960’s to see a city crudely divided by concrete and barbed wire, where on one side you could say whatever you liked and on the other there were soldiers with machine guns and secret police patrolling even your visit to the opera.
The feeling among people then was that such savagery must never, ever happen again; that we must collectively build a new Europe, whose culture we all shared, with an overarching political structure; checks and balances to underpin democracy and to make future war and human rights abuse impossible. It was from this that the European Union was born.
What has been achieved has been amazing. Each country has contributed according to its strengths. The Europe of today is unrecognisable compared to the Europe of yesterday.
But the price of this success is that peace and democracy are now taken for granted. This is dangerous for, as we all know, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Europe still faces many challenges. You can read about them in the press every day. The task of making Europe safe and prosperous and helping the less fortunate to become safe and prosperous is far from complete.
Britain signed up to this European construction in 1973 and we have contributed massively to it. If we were to leave now we should be abandoning our friends and allies in a selfish venture to better ourselves. The reality of course is that leaving the EU would impoverish Britain as well as impoverishing Europe. So ask not what Europe can do for you; ask what you can do for Europe.
Thanks to Peter Sain ley Berry, a member of the Say Yes 2 Europe – Remain in the EU alliance.