The EU: did we ever really belong?

In just over two weeks pro-EU people have gone from despondency to incredulity as we have seen a succession of Conservative MPs topple each other over Europe, seemingly unconcerned about the damage that has been done to the country by the Leave vote. The Labour Party too are in disarray over this issue and only the Lib Dems are going forward on a pro-EU footing – even though it looks like the country is now heading for the exit door.

But Europe has actually been a divisive issue for political leaders since we first joined the EEC in 1973 and this whole saga, sadly, feels like the final scene in a 40-year soap opera. The political pundits tell us that Europe was the undoing of John Major, and David Cameron has now lost his job because of it. And ever since we joined, successive governments would go to Brussels with the begging bowl, always wanting special treatment for Britain, rather than wanting to get stuck in and build a better Europe.

It seems to me that many of our leaders – and clearly many in the nation at large – never really embraced Europe or, perhaps, even understood it. Many people just wouldn’t know that over many years, a lot of our best social and environmental legislation originated from laws passed in Brussels, and that much infrastructure was built in the poorer regions of the UK with EU money. It has now entered our common folklore that the most searched for term on Google the day after the Referendum was, “What is the EU?”

Perhaps, even more significantly, does Britain really have a European psyche? Isn’t that why so many people voted Brexit: because they don’t really feel European when it comes to it? Those who live in London and go to Europe for weekend breaks or work with international companies, will be dismayed by the potential return to ‘Little Englanderism’, and be particularly upset by the thought that some hard-working people from the EU living in the UK may already be feeling unwelcome in what has become their own country.

So what to do now? We firstly need to reflect on why so many people have rejected the European ideal. We need to try to understand and educate. This mustn’t just be seen by the Lib Dems as an opportunity for gaining new members amongst those disaffected by the Brexit vote. We have to dig deeper and work towards achieving a more socially democratic, well informed country that will want to turn back towards Europe. We have to try to work out why Scotland has turned out to be so much more progressive and enlightened on the EU than England.

For this we need better education, improved language teaching in schools, more equality, less entrenched privilege and an economic plan that gives people satisfying work and good communities to live in. We will need to do the hard work of informing before we can reap the benefits of being – and feeling – a more truly progressive European nation. It could take a long time to achieve, but for the Lib Dems there can’t be any alternative.

 

* Judy works for a think tank in London, specialising in health policy

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33 Comments

  • “..seemingly unconcerned about the damage that has been done to the country by the Leave vote.”
    What damage.?
    —–
    “…and that much infrastructure was built in the poorer regions of the UK with EU money.”
    So we’re still having to listen to the same Remain lies peddled over and over again.? We’ve long established the *fact* that there is no such thing as ‘EU money’
    EU money = British taxpayers money recycled back to the British.
    —–
    “We need to try to understand and educate.”
    Condescending liberal superiority rears its repulsive head once again.

  • @ J Dunn

    The Damage So Far:
    Many businesses with primarily domestic exposure – such as retail banks & house builders are valued at 30% less post-referendum. That’s a reflection of the increased risk, downturn in investment, instability caused by leaving the EU – and will affect pensions & savings.

    This doesn’t include the change in the value of the pound – at its lowest against the dollar in decades. We might see some increase in exports down the line but – with a currently import-heavy economy – prices will go up across the board.

    Many, many companies rely on an EU base so will be considering shifting some, if not all, operations out of the UK.

    The referendum turned nasty & has bolstered the far-right & neo-nazis who now think the majority agree that “foreigners should go home” – and people who have made their home here now feel insecure and unwelcome.

    We’ve pissed off our allies, destabilised the global economy & are unlikely to be welcomed to many places with open arms.

    EU Money:
    EU Money does include British contributions. But it also includes contributions from all the other countries. In areas such as science we received a disproportionately large amount of EU funding – and British scientists work closely on EU funded projects across Europe.

    The EU has worked hard to ensure that money is used to reinvigorate under-developed regions across the continent, including in Liverpool – to name just one example.

    Other Benefits:
    EU/EEA-wide equality for trade & travel such as mobile phone roaming, protection from unscrupulous or incompetent companies & government (see BT & Phorm). Environmental co-operation – global solutions for global problems.

    There’s nothing condescending about suggesting that many people are not well informed about the EU. They are not. Studies & surveys show this clearly.

    If, as Liberal Democrats, we recognise the benefits outweigh the costs – and we can also see that many people do not know about these benefits – then it is absolutely our role to educate / inform and persuade. Not just to win an argument – but even if only so that people know their rights.

  • jedibeeftrix 11th Jul '16 - 2:58pm

    “Perhaps, even more significantly, does Britain really have a European psyche? Isn’t that why so many people voted Brexit”

    No, and yes, respectively.

  • Leave The EU 11th Jul '16 - 6:12pm

    “EU Money does include British contributions. But it also includes contributions from all the other countries.” = the UK is a net contributor to the EU – with recovered sovereignty, the UK parliament can choose how to spend the UK’s money and the electorate can vote in and out governments according to how they perform.

  • Leave The EU 11th Jul '16 - 6:30pm

    “The EU: did we ever really belong?” – were we ever really asked if wanted to belong (join)?

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jul '16 - 6:52pm

    ‘ And ever since we joined, successive governments would go to Brussels with the begging bowl, always wanting special treatment for Britain, rather than wanting to get stuck in and build a better Europe.’

    I keep hearing this. The UK was one of the very few countries to believe in the EU enough to open up in full on the day of A8 accession. In addition the UK has long been a significant net contributor.

    One or two other EU countries now lecturing and wanting to punish the UK might like to think on that.

    The voters aren’t fickle, they just didn’t like the look of what was on offer.

  • Leave
    Yes in 1975. The Preamble of the Treaty of Rome says closer union.

  • Thanks for comments. Why do the Scottish people want to be part of Europe? They have no tuition fees and free prescriptions. The have a positive attitude to immigration. England is a divided country with a few very rich people and lots of poor people. We are a class ridden society with swathes of poverty and deprivation across the North – anywhere away from London. But this is not because of the EU. Denmark is not like that. Germany is not like that.

  • Little Jackie Piper. I think they will like what’s on offer now event less: increased poverty; increased prices; increased xenophobia. More power in the hands of the few. Great!

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jul '16 - 7:57pm

    Judy Avel (?) – ‘I think they will like what’s on offer now event less: increased poverty; increased prices; increased xenophobia. More power in the hands of the few. Great!’

    Time will tell. I’m more optimistic than you.

    But one thought – and to be very clear here I mean no disrespect. You are described as, ‘living in Bath and she works for a think tank in London.’

    Do you think that there is a vague possibility that some people might have a rather different world-view? That actually the country under the EU had poverty, high prices and inequality. And that people voted as they did following the evidence of their own eyes, rather than xenophobia.

  • Little Jackie Piper. No offence take!. But from what you say I take it that you are not in favour of the Lib Dems’ policy on taking us back into the EU? I think the inequality has been caused by much wider globalisation and cheaper imports from well beyond the EU. We have such deep structural problems in our economy – lack of investment in education and skills for example – that leaving the EU is not going to sort those problems out unless we opt for total isolationism.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jul '16 - 8:24pm

    Judy – To answer your question, if I had my way we’d have a Norway option and I’d like to see everyone work to that end.

    I could give a long answer on this one, and I’m sure we could exchange all day. Suffice it here to say that I voted leave because, very simply I could not bring my self to tick the box that said, ‘more of the same please.’ I am mindful that there is an entirely reasonable argument that leaving the EU is the wrong answer to the right questions (albeit that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the EU in and of itself).

    Education and skills are not the issues here. There are, for sure, problems with the UK economy but, at the risk of being pithy, we very simply have a form of capitalism that is fantastic, just as long as you have capital.

    The high levels of Euroscepticism that we see are I think a symptom of a wider cause. For 30+ years all mainstream parties (I make no partisan political point here) have followed what could be called, ‘the open agenda.’ This has been manifest in many areas of life and there has been no meaningful route to oppose it. The EU referendum of course, did provide such a route. If you think that something, ‘less open,’ or even, ‘more closed,’ is de facto xenophobia then I suggest that you need to take a step back. The open agenda has done a lot of people no favours, and if they wish to say so at the ballot box they are well within their rights.

  • Leave The Eu
    >the UK parliament can choose how to spend the UK’s money
    Wales will become more dependent on Westminster’s largesse. If they oblige. Yay.

    >and the electorate can vote in and out governments according to how they perform
    Ha, ha, ha. You mean some of electorate. Those of us living in safe seats might just as well stay in bed. Isn’t that why turnout for the referendum was so high? People felt that just for once, their vote might actually count?

  • Leave The EU 11th Jul '16 - 9:25pm

    @Manfarang – “Yes in 1975. The Preamble of the Treaty of Rome says closer union.” – there is a difference between “closer union” and a “superstate” in the making with supranational intent.

    @CassieB – the fact is that the UK voters can vote out 100% of UK MPs and under 10% of EU MEPs: over 90% from other countries.

  • Little Jackie Piper. I think I am more optimistic! I thought we would be better off trying to sort things out with our European neighbours over time and finding a solution than cutting ourselves off and saying however bad it gets at least we are free – (as the train veers off the tracks and over the cliff).

    Time will tell. That’s what I’m really worried about!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Jul '16 - 1:24am

    Judy it is not yet the Lib Dems policy to take us back into the EU but a pledge by Tim made too soon !

  • “Am I alone in finding juxtaposition if this with talk of ‘the fifth largest economy in the world’ somewhat paradoxical?”
    I’m sure some of your 7% think like you, but a great deal more cannot understand why this 5th largest economy has blinkered liberals willing to shovel cash towards the poor of other countries, but not towards the ‘left behind’ of this country.?
    Can you explain why liberals so viscerally despise the British poor and disadvantaged.?

  • Crap and superficial article! Sorry, but I have never posted anything so negative before!

  • Scotland wants to be in the EU because amongst other things it offers a way not to be in the UK. They have a positive attitude to immigration because few people actually emigrate there. It’s roughly the size of England and has a population of about 6 million as a apposed to 50 odd million.

  • @CassieB
    Yes, 17 years in Olover Letwin’s safe seat has given me no real vote.

  • Oops!
    Oliver Letwin.

  • Ian Sanderson
    “….and charitable contributions from people like me.”
    Is condescension just one of those unfortunate liberal traits, that we all simply have to bite our lip and endure.?
    How about this for an idea.? You keep your charity, and instead we have some solid well honed policy to create a fairer and more level financial playing field for people who are disenfranchised.?

  • Alex Macfie 12th Jul '16 - 3:58pm

    Oliver Letwin’s seat wasn’t always safe. Lib Dems came within a whisker of capturing it in 1997.

  • I was in Ryedale N. Yorkshire then. That is when I first joined the Liberal Democrats.

  • Simon Banks 12th Jul '16 - 8:35pm

    If Britain is not really European – rather, England and Wales are not really European – why is Scotland strongly European? The most depressing answer would be that the English blame the EU and immigrants when the Scots blame the English. But I think there’s more to it than that.

    I agree that a lot of the time we’ve been thorough nuisances. We’ve obstructed moves to make the EU more effective while complaining that it’s ineffective.

    Maybe we’ve changed. I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book about Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland in 1941, seeking to broker a separate peace with Britain so Hitler could have a free hand to attack the Soviet Union. The Nazis made a credible case about British interests, as did leading appeasers like Halifax, Butler and the Duke of Buccleuch. Churchill rejected it. His stated reason? What the Nazis were doing in Poland and Czechoslovakia. And those who promote Brexit by harking back to that was should remember, it was not just the Americans and the “Empire” that helped us, but many French, Poles, Czechs, Danes… and not a few Germans, refugees who the Daily Mail had been attacking as a flood of “stateless Germans”.

  • It seems to me the EU works for upwardly mobile people but leaves a very large proportion of all member state’s populations trailing miserably behind. I have absolutely no regret that I voted to leave.
    Were we ever wholeheartedly in the EU project? … I don’t think so. And if the Lib Dems credo is going to be to get us back into the EU at any cost, I will not be renewing my membership.

  • If Britain is not really European – rather, England and Wales are not really European – why is Scotland strongly European?

    It’s not that strongly European — it’s only 60/40.

  • Pat
    What shred of evidence do you have that a UK outside the EU will be better for those people “trailing behind” as you put it. All the evidence I have seen is that it will make things worse for them.

  • Because people love simplistic answers to difficult questions.

  • @ Frank Little – so agree. BBC has so often obsessed over US politics and yet failed to explain or enlighten the audience over the EU (apart from the ‘going to Brussels for a better deal’ scenario) which reflects what I was trying to write about. EU political structures are quite complex so better to just reduce all talk about the EU to common denominator stuff.

    @John Innes – I may not have expressed my argument perfectly, but you give yourself away; you clearly don’t understand the kind of points Frank and others are making. I am half Danish and I know for a fact that England does not have a European outlook or mindset. I tried to make the completely point that as a country, we never truly embraced Europe so it was all too easy for the whole project to unravel when it came to the crunch.

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