Nick Clegg writes…Europe makes Britain great

Unlike many of our neighbours, Britain did not join the EU as a way of embracing a new, modern identity. For the Germans, French, Italians and the Benelux countries, European co-operation represented the victory of peace over war. For Spain, Greece and Portugal, membership signified the victory of democracy over fascism. For many newer members, it was about throwing off the tyranny of Soviet communism.
Not us. Joining the European Community was a pounds and pence calculation of what was good for us, done with a shrug of the shoulders and an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ acceptance that the age of empire was over.

This is why so much of our European debate is not, in fact, about Europe at all. It’s about Britain. Our identity. Our sovereignty. It reflects what has been a lack of clarity about where exactly we stand in today’s world, and who we stand with. And it’s why the shrill arguments of the Brexiteers so often seem to equate our membership of the EU with Britain’s loss of empire, as if it was the fault of Brussels that Britain lost its colonies.

The truth, of course, is very different: far from weakening Britain, our membership of the EU has enabled us to flourish. Britain today is a major world power. We are the world’s fifth largest economy. Our capital is one of the world’s most popular destinations and a centre for culture and global commerce. Our universities are among the very best on the planet. Our businesses lead the world in everything from computer games to wind power. We don’t need to rule the waves in order to wield influence across the modern world. Europe helps Britain to be great.

Because so much of our debate has been dominated by cold pragmatism, the patriotic case for EU membership – that it enhances our status in the world and makes us more influential, more affluent, and more secure – has rarely been heard.

EU membership is profoundly in our national interest. We stand taller in the world when we stand tall in our own neighbourhood. That’s why it is so galling to see the advocates of Brexit cloak themselves in the language of patriotism. There is nothing patriotic in seeing your country diminished. Withdrawal and isolation is a betrayal of our national interest.

Within Europe we can ensure Britain’s continued leadership in world affairs; continued influence in Washington, Beijing and New Delhi as much as in Brussels, Paris or Berlin; and for our reputation as a proud, outward- looking, internationalist power. If we choose to walk away we will cede our influence and our importance.

Indeed, leaving may mean sacrificing the United Kingdom itself, with a leave vote triggering a second independence referendum in Scotland. Far from being the patriotic choice, Brexit would jeopardise the very existence of the United Kingdom. Staying in Europe, working alongside other nations increases our influence, gives us greater prosperity and protects the union.

This article is from the EuroFile (pdf)– a collection of essays offering a positive, liberal case for Europe

* Nick Clegg is the MP for Sheffield Hallam

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  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jun '16 - 3:11pm

    Good article. The part about Scotland leaving should hit home with people as one of the big real risks of brexit.

    I’ve never considered not voting remain in this campaign. I just hope people don’t gloat it we win big. A win for remain doesn’t mean we can start pretty much ignoring immigration as an issue again.

  • grahame lamb 24th Jun '16 - 7:39am

    Isn’t the phrase “the Benelux countries” outmoded and just a little patronising?
    Actually, it doesn’t “sound” like you: and I have spoken to you on several occasions.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Jun '16 - 1:29pm

    Sheffield said ‘leave’.

    ’nuff said? 🙁

    This referendum was actually lost not by the incompetent ‘IN’ campaign but in the General Election where thirty Lib Dem seat losses gave David Cameron the overall majority which permitted him to have this ludicrous pointless and dishonest plebiscite.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '16 - 8:56pm

    As the BBC’s Nick Robinson reported there was a wave of patriotism when the Prime Minister’s application was vetoed by the French President. I was a tiny part of that and it survives.
    Six Liberal MPs divided the House of Commons in the 1950s, as we were told in the Liberal Summer School.
    The Fourth Republic in France and the UK establishment took different views from Suez.
    France had an empire as a founder member. Parts of it are still relevant, incorporated into Metropolitan France but launching rockets into space from the north coast of South America.

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