By Daniel Fox
The European Union received the Nobel peace prize in 2012. Europe had been transformed from a ‘continent of war’ into a ‘continent of peace’, according to Thorbjoern Jagland, the Nobel Committee President.
Everyone seems to want Britain to stay. We are constantly told that leaders in business, politics and academia all warn of the dangers of a ‘Brexit’. So why did an EU referendum become the focal point of the general election? Why has it become such a desperately important issue?
The only people who seem serious about wanting to leave are UKIP and the rightwing of the Conservative party. So again, why a referendum?
The reasoning behind a referendum is ostensibly to give the British people their say. Trust the British people, we are told.
It is ironic that it was the period of the general election that we heard the most about the necessity of having a referendum on the EU. Surely, the point of electing a government is for those elected to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us.
The irony goes further when we consider those who laud the idea of a British exit. It is mostly the radical right of British politics – Thatcher’s heirs. On the one hand, they care deeply about British sovereignty being taken from the British people in the form of legislation such as the Human Rights Act. On the other – well hidden – hand, they have led the privatisation of our railways, water and energy providers, postal service, prisons, housing and parts of the NHS. This is the transferral of power from our government to multi-national corporations – organisations whose primary motive is to make as large a profit as possible.
Why not offer us a referendum on privatisation? Why not offer us a referendum on the repealing of the Human Rights Act?
Referenda are not always a bad thing. However, equally, they are not automatically a good thing. They sometimes offer legitimacy to a cause that does not deserve to be given credibility. They sometimes have unexpected, and unwanted, results – see France, 2005.
When all political talk is riddled with criticisms of Europe – when we have a political elite who portray Europe as the source of all our problems – when ideas such as leaving the European Union are given credibility, people will sometimes take that rhetoric seriously.
The EU is often seen as a burden. We are apparently weighed down with legislation and directives imposed on us by a shady elite in Brussels. Well, let me ask you this: what is the purpose of the EU? If it didn’t provide legislation, what would its purpose be? If it didn’t tell members that they should/couldn’t do certain things, what would its purpose be?
We live in a global world. We live in a global world where problems affect us all. We live in a global world where the problems are global. No one country will put money and time in to tackle a problem which they can pass off as someone else’s responsibility. Cooperation is key. Global problems require global solutions.
Ask a neighbour to write down a list of the five greatest threats facing humanity today. What would be on it? Climate change. War. Disease. Poverty. Terrorism.
These problems require agreement between countries. France is probably not going to reduce its carbon footprint unless it thinks it likely that Sweden will too. Spain is probably not going to give 0.7% of its GNI to fight poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa unless it thinks it likely that Germany will too.
The anti-EU rhetoric is dangerous because it drenches us in the language of fierce competition and the Britain-can-do-it-alone mentality.
Britain cannot do it alone. It is not just about persuasion. Many of these problems simply cannot be tackled without international cooperation. We all complain that companies such as Starbucks do not pay their fair share of taxes. We need countries to work together to create and enforce a global tax framework. We need more integration, not less. The EU is part of that integration.
Crime, human trafficking and the drugs trade do not recognise the arbitrary boundaries of EU member states. They can only be combated through international agreements. We need more cooperation, not less. The EU is part of that cooperation.
The EU debate will likely be focused around whether Britain will be better off within the EU. The answer is a resounding yes. However, that debate misses the point. The point is about humanity, not just the British people. The gravest problems which we in Britain face, affect all of humanity. Think about that word: humanity. Humanity includes everyone. We are humanity, along with everyone else in Europe and the rest of the world, so let’s bloody act like it.
Illustration: Mariam Hayat