General de Gaulle was right about the UK . He said Britain would never be a reliable partner in Europe. An assessment that has stood the test of time.
The General would have been particularly underwhelmed by Boris Johnson's wavering on such a strategic issue as EU membership.
He might have noted that were Boris already Prime Minister he might be campaigning for Britain to remain instead of leading the campaign to leave (aka the campaign to make Boris PM).
Boris Johnson is a man who prefers to take a risk with the country rather than a risk with his own career. No wonder the David Cameron is so upset.
At least the Prime Minister has put the interests of the Conservative Party first. Harold Wilson did the same in 1975. And within a year of the referendum, he was no longer Prime Minister. Labour's divisions over Europe kept it out of power for a generation. Such has been the fate of those who put party above nation.
I am a committed European. I am also a British patriot. The EU means stability in Europe, and it means peace. The EU anchors our neighbouring states to democracy. The EU gives all of us in Europe, including the British, a more powerful voice in world affairs (trade, climate change, security negotiations, for example) than if we stood alone. Do we really think that a British Foreign Secretary could have negotiated the lifting of sanctions against Iran and the halting of their nuclear weapons programme? These are not dreams. These are the real, practical and sustainable achievements of EU diplomacy.
By contrast the Leave camp's blustering about sovereignty strikes me as abstract and fanciful. It makes for good newspaper copy and entertaining speeches but it is remote from people's everyday concerns. It's unclear which powers should be “repatriated” or how this would benefit Britain. In a wide-ranging review of competences in the last parliament, the government could not identify a single one. Most Brexiteers are hard-pressed to do so. Unable to stare truth in the face, the they reach for the the comfort blanket – the mantra that Britain should leave the EU altogether.
The other perverse aspect of the leave campaigners argument relates to the issue of sovereignty itself. Like Bill Cash, my former sparring partner years ago on the European Scrutiny Committee he now chairs, I care passionately about parliamentary sovereignty. So can somebody from the Leave campaign please explain to me why we are holding a plebiscite in the first place? Shouldn't we let parliament decide ? Are we going to have a referendum on UK membership of NATO?
In the absence of rational argument we are left with negative campaigning – a cynical play on the fear of migration, tapping into a public mood of insecurity, channeling resentment towards the EU.
President Mitterand once said in private, that the point of the EU was to get French farmers to throw tomatoes at the European Commission in Brussels rather than at the French Ministry of Agriculture in Paris
I wonder if the Brexiteers have understood how just much they need the institutions of the EU. Who are they going to blame when the EU (and/or EU migrants) are no longer there? They should be careful what they wish for.
For all that, Britain's fate on the 23 June will be in the hands of the “undecideds”.
Will these voters decide on the basis of real issues that matter to them? Or will they risk their livelihoods on the basis of abstract notions of British influence or parliamentary sovereignty ?
If our weekly shopping baskets will be cheaper if Britain remains a member of the EU, why would the undecided voter opt for a leap in the dark? Would you bet your family's future on a political theory?
The UK is no longer – if it ever was - a “nation of shopkeepers”. But we are still a nation of shoppers.
My hope is that British pragmatism will prevail and that Britain will vote to remain a member of the EU on 23 June.
As for myself, I will be voting to Remain for the simple reason that I love Britain and Europe. I am enough of a pragmatist though to recognise that even a Yes vote will not settle the matter and that we may soon be preparing for a third referendum.
This will be under a new Prime Minister and with a government that may be campaigning for Britain to leave. That will be be a very different ball game (unless I am right about Boris Johnson and he flips flops back to his original pro-EU position as soon as he has set foot in Downing St).
General de Gaulle (not to mention Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill) must be turning in their graves.
This article was first published in Order, Order!, the magazine for former Members of Parliament, following a debate between Roger Casale and Lord Alan Howarth at the House of Commons in May 2016.
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