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The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Remain: The truly patriotic choice

5th May 2016

In its latest volley of relentless negativity, the Remain campaign has targeted the grim outlook for UK trade were we to leave the EU. Last week its aim was fixed on the 3 million jobs dependent on the union. The statistics change but the message remains: leave at your peril. Remain have abandoned even lip service to positivity, content with making dire predictions and scaring people into voting the ‘right’ way on June 23.

As Nicola Sturgeon has highlighted, this Project Fear-style of campaigning  nearly lost the Better Together campaign the Scottish referendum. This time the polls have started closer and there is a risk that if a broader picture of the benefits of EU membership is not laid out, the Remain campaign could lose the referendum. Even should they win, it is at the cost of conceptualising the union in purely financial and technocratic terms.

What makes Remain’s campaign frustrating is that it need not be difficult to make a positive case for Britain’s future in Europe; take the significant progress in the area of education and research. Britain is one of the largest recipients of research funding from the EU, helping make our universities amongst the best in the world. These projects encompass research on health and wellbeing, climate change and agriculture and draw in researchers from across the Europe. As Dr Mike Galsworthy argued maintaining the global status of Britain’s scientific research if we left the EU would be “like imagining Lionel Messi would be the player he was without the Barcelona first team around him.”

The Erasmus programme is a great example of where the European project works well.  More than 200,000 British students and 20,000 academics have benefitted from the Erasmus scheme. Many talented young people come here to study and many of our young people go abroad to learn skills in Europe. Remaining inside Europe helps ensure the best prospects for our young people.

Or Remain could focus on the value of the European project for jobs at a time of significant lay-offs. The recent bad news for the British steel industry highlights the need to work together across Europe. The relentless job losses caused in British industry by Chinese dumping requires a response on a continental scale: A pan-European approach would have better potential to deal with the problem of Chinese dumping than does a single country. There is significant room for a more engaged Britain in a reformed, multi-speed EU. That will enable us to build on our economic strengths, such as financial services, while supporting regrowth in other strategically vital industries, like manufacturing.

Too often the focus is on what the EU is perceived to take from Britain. Yet greater integration and sharing of expertise with our partners in Europe can help enable regeneration to benefit every corner of the UK. For example, the economy of the Ruhr area probably has far more in common with industrial areas in the UK than they do with London. The EU allows for large-scale collaboration to mutually benefit both sides. Imagine what can be achieved if we pooled our expertise with European industry more efficiently.

And, perhaps simplest, the narrative that Britain can be a leader only if it is part of the EU. The campaigners for a Brexit often talk longingly of Britain being a global power in the world again, but fail to see that the EU offers Britain the best chance to step up to the plate and take this role head on. Unfortunately, as a country we still suffer from a form of masochistic self-doubt about our place in the world. A Britain that takes a leading role in Europe is something that would be welcomed in Europe. There is no need to leave in order to find our power, we already have access to the largest free-trade block in the world; the chance to play a leading role is there, if we only grab it.

We must move away from the rhetoric that the EU is something that happens to Britain, that it is some imposition which is imposed on us by Germany and France. The smaller countries of Europe would love to play a role comparable to the role the UK plays in Europe, and they express confusion at the manner in which the UK downplays its ability to influence EU policy. For example, a Danish think tank published the revealingly titled article “The awkward Brits still play an important role in Brussels”, which argued that Britain is simply too big a country to be excluded from meetings and other important permanent councils, but that the other member states are getting increasingly perplexed at the disinterested nature of Britain’s involvement in the EU. It doesn’t need to be like this. Britain can play an important role.

The Remain campaign has a golden opportunity to paint a positive picture of Britain’s future in Europe. Education, industry, and emphasising our potential strength in Europe are only a starting point; there are many other benefits to staying in the EU. The Remain campaign should spend more time talking about the positive case for staying in and setting out a strong answer to the leave campaigners lament about the powerlessness of Britain. We have the chance to step up to the plate in Europe and the referendum gives us the chance re-affirm what matters to us as a nation, and show how we can best grow with the support and abilities of our European friends.


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