Listening to the Brexit debate in recent weeks I have been struck by the negativity of the ‘inners’. They spend almost as much time saying they have no love for the EU as the ‘outers’. The argument generally is very much fought around ‘what is in Britain’s best interest’. This is inevitable in the run-up to the referendum I suppose, but it also misses the point. Staying in or leaving are about much more than short or medium term economic interest. The outers are really motivated by nationalism and a deep seated antipathy towards the EU which has been fed for decades by the British Eurosceptic press. This is also informed by nostalgia for the days of Empire, when Britain had superpower status. These campaigners like to talk down Europe as a failed project (as MP Kate Hoey did on tonight’s Any Questions). This is ridiculous considering that the EU collectively is the world’s largest economy, even bigger than the US.
But the ‘inners’ have a much more positive story to tell, and this is one which should contain much loftier concepts than economic self-interest. The EU is primarily about co-operation. It is about solidarity, and it is about the peaceful and voluntary pooling of resources. It is a relationship, it is a partnership, and anyone who enters into either one of these simply for what they can get out of it, is not going to be a good partner – and is not going to get the best out of it. In order be a good partner or club member, you have to be committed and you have to be prepared to work for the common good. That surely is how joining together with others works. You recognise that you have common ground and you decide to club together to share the benefits and face the challenges together.
It is not just Britain that seems to have a blind spot here. In the refugee crisis a number of countries have refused to help either the desperate people fleeing war, or their European partners. Such emphasis on apparent self-interest is very short-sighted. Because working together means that today I help you, and tomorrow you help me. And if there is something I do not like, we talk about it and find a compromise. And ultimately we know that it is worth belonging, not because we are going to be so many millions better off today or tomorrow, but because if we help our neighbours they will also help us. Whereas if we are constantly trying to get the better of our neighbours, we will have to watch our backs.
If we are part of a Union with our continent, we can compete with the US and China, face down Russia and help Africa in ways that are just not possible for any European country alone. But most of all, we can help each other.
Unfortunately, the inners are having frequently to dumb down their humanitarian argument to convince those who think financial considerations are all that matter.