Alphen, Netherlands. 7 June. Chaired by the excellent Dr Phillip Lee MP it was British democracy at its best. Last Friday evening I took part in an excellent Brexit debate at Wellington College in the Royal County of Berkshire. Aimed at the Brexit ‘undecideds’ I made the case for ‘in’ alongside an old and much respected colleague Charles Grant, founder of the Centre for European Reform. For the ‘Out’ campaign there were two impressive speakers. Anna Firth, a well-known lawyer and politician made her case for Brexit with forensic precision. Ryan Bourne of the Institute for Economic Affairs, brought a huge weight of serious economic expertise to the debate. Me? As you will see from my remarks below I made the geopolitical case for ‘in’. That, after all, is what I do.
My essential point was this; there is much about the EU I find nauseating, even potentially inimical to democracy. However, the world is too dangerous and Europe too unstable for Britain to flounce out. Over the next decade the world beyond Europe will force enormous change on Europe. That change will be used by those in the EU dangerously gripped by the idea of an individual-crushing, oligarchic federal super-state to advance their case. Rather, I want Britain, a top five world political, economic, and military power in the EU fighting like mad for a super-alliance of nation-states in which power remains close to the people, and accountable to them. Perhaps the biggest challenge Britain faces is to get a failed political and bureaucratic elite in London to use British power and influence to effect and overcome their own pervasive and endemic declinism.
If you are really sad and want to see the debate and my speech in glorious technocolor you can do so online either by going to www.philip-lee.com/video-gallery/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zckz8TbzlgA
Ten Reasons why I Reject Brexit
“Thank you, Philip. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is an honour to be here. You know, I have a strange feeling being here tonight. Living in the Netherlands, watching what passes for the Brexit debate over here, I feel like I am intruding on my own private grief.
Three issues I want briefly to address: Who the hell am I? What do I think of both campaigns so far? Why on geopolitical balance I reject Brexit?
But let me start with what the Yanks would call the ‘takeaway’. On Wednesday EU Council President Donald Tusk said that EU leaders should concentrate on practical matters and abandon “utopian dreams of ever closer integration to combat rising Euro-scepticism”. Whether you believe him or not reading between the lines it is clear that the next decade will be a big strategic tipping point for the EU and Europe. I want Britain in there fighting for the principle we fought to give Europe, and which Abraham Lincoln so eloquently described in the Gettysburg Address: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
Nor will I pull any punches:
Those of you like me who vote to remain are going to be sorely tested after the referendum: The Greek debt and Eurozone crises are on hold until after 23 June and Britain cannot incubate itself from the consequences – in or out. The Italian debt crisis might well soon break. The migration crisis is a systemic challenge that will continue as millions the world-over are on the move. Germany for entirely legitimate reasons will push to turn the Eurozone into a hybrid federation under its leadership – a Real EU. Forget George Osborne and the woeful Treasury; the EU is an economic basket case that must become more competitive or die.
So, why am I committed to Britain staying in the EU?
It is precisely because Brexit is a symptom of a big strategic crisis in Europe, and it is precisely because Europe is in crisis, that I cannot countenance Britain, Europe’s leading military power and second biggest economy, leaving the EU at this moment. I just wish the numpties on both sides in London would see that.
So, who the hell am I?
I am an analyst, not a politician. I call it as I see it. I am also a Briton/Yorkshireman living in the Netherlands with my Dutch wife. I would describe myself as a Europhile, EU-sceptic. And, like many in my Dutch village I do not like distant power. Equally, I believe deeply in European co-operation, but completely reject the dangerous idea of a European super-state. Read my writings and you will find me no friend of the Brussels elite (which I know well). That said, I reject the caricature of Brussels as brim-full of power-mad foreigners hell-bent on destroying Britain’s ancient freedoms. Only 90% or so are of that persuasion.
What do I think about the campaigns on both sides?
Rubbish…on both sides! Anyone who tells you that the case for ‘in’ or ‘out’ is black and white is either lying, deluding themselves, or plain stupid. This is one of those moments when we must all exercise strategic judgement. Sadly, the Brexit campaign is not the British political class at its best (present company of course excepted). The only facts you need to know are the following. In 2015 the International Monetary Fund cited Britain as the world’s 5th biggest economy. In 2015 the International Institute for Strategic Studies had Britain as the world’s 4th biggest defence spender. Britain is not a small island as some would have it; Britain is a top five world power but needs to start acting like one. Indeed, for me the real issue implicit in Brexit is why the Westminster political class and the Whitehall Establishment have become so bad at wielding British power and influence, in Europe or elsewhere. To find out why in 2015 I wrote a book entitled Little Britain. It is brilliant, and very-reasonably priced!
Let me also state for the record that I am in some sympathy with the Brexiteers, and whilst the Cameron plan is not as weak as some would have it, there will be no reform of the EU per se under the Cameron plan. With a few window dressing minor adjustments most of the so-called ‘new’ arrangements actually exist under current treaty provisions. The agreement confirms that Britain will not at any point be part of EU structures of which it is already NOT a part, most notably the Euro, Schengen, and ever closer political union. Der! So, why do I reject Brexit?
Ten reasons why I reject Brexit?
1. The integrity of the United Kingdom: The UK is fragile and I do not want to give the secessionists in Scotland any succour.
2. The balance of power in Europe is shifting in Britain’s favour: Britain is already the EU’s
strongest military power, some commentators (CEBR) suggest that by 2030 the EU’s 2nd biggest economy could be the biggest.
- Pressure for EU reform will grow: Britain is not alone. Come to my Dutch village, and you will see growing demands for more democracy, more accountability and an EU more alliance than union organised around the nation-state rather than committed to destroying it. Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte has already said the idea of a full-on super-state is dead.
- Immigration: Free movement is as much a consequence of victory in the Cold War as the EU. EU or not we would have something like free movement in Europe. Indeed, it is hard to imagine contemporary Europe without it. The failure is a failure of management.
- If it’s broke fix it! The EU is a fact of life - stay or go. Even Jean-Claude Juncker has admitted the EU needs a new political settlement for Eurozone and the non-Eurozone to cohabit. I want Britain in there fighting like mad to influence what is a vital British interest. In any case Britain has a constitutional lock under the 2011 European Union Act, which means any more transfers of sovereignty will require (heaven forbid!) yet another (bloody) referendum.
- Good Geopolitics: No Project Fear but this is a dangerous strategic moment. All of us in the EU to be focused on events in Russia and the Middle East and yet we are not. The Scottish referendum effectively paralysed the British government for two years. Whitehall is again paralysed in the run-up to this referendum. Brexit negotiations will take at least two years, more likely five or more years. Our strategically-illiterate elite need little excuse to again take their collective eye off the big strategic ball.
- Grand Strategy: In January 2016 I stood in the Lithuanian snow not far from the border with Russia. In November 2015 and March 2016 terrorist attacks took place in Paris and Brussels. Europe is again locked in two big, bad struggles with big, bad forces. Brexit now would send all the wrong signals to all the wrong people. We simply cannot isolate ourselves. We are too powerful to hide. We must stand with our friends and allies both in NATO and the EU.
- The Weight of History: The control and direction of Europe is simply too critical a national British interest. Boris Johnson was right…and wrong. Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and, yes, Adolf Hitler, were all seen off because first England and then Britain stood firm, built coalitions and counter-vailing liberal power. It was not the US that gave much of Europe parliamentary democracy; it was Britain.
- The EU is still about Power. Let me be clear; the EU is none of the above and I do not equate Brussels with Hitler’s Berlin. Indeed, what became the EU was created precisely to prevent a Hitler ever again rising to power. However, Project Europe is but still about power; who controls it, and for the benefit of whom. Like it or loathe it the EU prevents extreme behaviour by extreme states. It must now be prevented from slipping into a form of bureaucratic tyranny. Britain must engage, not disengage!
- Political Irony: The political irony of Brexit is that after all the froth and foment there is every chance Britain will end up in exactly the same place whether it stays of goes. Cameron’s ‘special status’ means Britain will become an associate member of the Real EU – the Eurozone. If Britain goes then Britain will end up as an associate member of the Eurozone. The difference being that if Britain stays in the EU Britain is at least at the table. Do not think for the moment those in Parliament who desire to remain will take a Brexit vote as the last word. Brexit commits no politician to any particular model and given the Parliamentary majority for Remain withdrawal negotiations will almost certainly lead to a compromise relationship with the EU.
So, my own position is clear. On balance Britain should remain within the EU, lead the reformers, lead the non-Eurozone group, and fight like mad for an EU that is for the people, of the people, and by the people.
Britain does not quit!