The EU Referendum – Don’t believe UKIP, believe Sir Winston (and his fellow Liberal Democrats)

Current soundbites aren’t doing this vote justice…

The arguments are well rehearsed by now. Boris’ land of milk, honey from Canada and ‘Nike tick growth’ versus Cameron’s doom, despair and economic shock. The land of Farage and UKIP freedom fighters versus job-destroying years of negotiation on separation terms (Canada’s EU trade deal: 7 years and counting).

The EU is fairly imperfect, and EU free movement makes immigration policy that much more difficult (although over 50% of migration to the UK comes from outside the EU). Cameron’s renegotiation, grand tour of Europe, and media-focused town halls are a fair attempt to address issues. But they don’t quite do it for me. (Why not travel the UK instead, to better understand people’s concerns and bolster the renegotiation?) As for UKIP, forget them: they have become the damn establishment, and their MEPs don’t even turn up for UK interests (see FT 2014 analysis[£]).

There’s one statesman, however, I would go into battle with. So, what would Churchill have said?

Well for Churchill, it would have been mad for us to give up our position of strength. He was, after all, a visionary and Liberal Party MP (notwithstanding his sad views on racial equality). Sadly he lost his nerve and went back to the Tories in 1924 – but in 1904 Churchill had defected to the Liberal Party, having declared, “I am an English Liberal. I hate the Tory Party, their men, their words and their methods”. In his blood, he had the instinct to question the world as it is, and then do something about it.

Sir Winston would have driven us to retake the lead – to build UK influence and improve the EU, for the collective benefit of our allies, many of whom share desires for EU reform. Indeed, Churchill is hailed as one of the EU’s founders. In 1946, he described Britain as, “the only country which has a great part in every one of…Europe, the Commonwealth, and the English speaking world…we have the opportunity to join them all.” In 1947, he presented the idea of “a United Europe in which our country will play a decisive part” alongside a European Charter and Court of Human Rights.

The mechanics of the EU institutions may not set the heart racing, but they do give us strong potential to influence. In the EU Council (of national leaders and finance ministers) we, France and Germany effectively form an executive board as the three largest economies. In the EU Commission we lead work on “Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union” enabling us to shape a key national interest. The EU parliament is more tricky (and less transparent as far as I can tell): We have 10% of MEPs, proportionate to our population as it should be, although this underestimates our influence since laws are often hammered out beforehand in the Council and Commission.

Combine that with the Commonwealth, G20, NATO, UN Security Council: and we are in a fortunate position. If we left the EU, the US, China, India, Nigeria, Brazil – you name it – would all have more reason to court and prioritise trade with France and Germany over us. Sir Edward Heath, a former Conservative PM, made this point powerfully in the late 90s, when EU sceptics were trying to commandeer Churchill’s name:

Churchill would be the first to realise that in the world today, where an isolated Britain would be dwarfed by five great powers, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union, Britain’s full participation in the European Union is vital, both for Britain and for the rest of the world.

The upcoming referendum is about jobs, collective prosperity, and how to deal with common challenges across allies.

How to fix immigration and social integration without resorting to ‘them’ and ‘us’. How to reform the EU so that we get clearer ways for national electorates to hold MEPs to account. How to reign in the power of global corporations, so that families get a greater slice of the huge wealth opportunities we allow big business to benefit from. How to build secure energy sources across the EU, to access greener and lower cost energy, and to give us leverage to put Putin and others in their place.

Churchill got it. We need to be in the room when key decisions are made – to be rule makers, not bystanders – in a world that is more globalised and competitive by the day.

To our current MPs and MEPs: get back to Brussels and start to hustle. The EU works for Germany and they’re weighed down by the euro. Stop shouting from the sidelines. Stay in, turn up, gain alliances – go make the EU work for us.

* Jonan Boto is a new Lib Dem member enjoying getting involved in campaigns and hoping to get involved as a PPC over the next couple of years. Motivated by helping people get a stake in the game, so that we can build and shape the UK’s future.

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  • I’m sorry, but this is a very partial and unhistoric view of Churchill.

    It’s time we let go the man who force fed the suffragettes, supported eugenics, was the biggest enthusiast for war in 1914, completely mismanaged Gallipoli, was rejected by Dundee in 1922, oppressed the miners and tried to take over the BBC in 1926, enforced the gold standard, opposed Indian Independence and bombed Dresden. Even after the war, the electorate had a view.

    It’s bad enough to have Boris Johnson claiming some sort of posthumous mantle.

  • Barry Snelson 11th Apr '16 - 12:37pm

    I like the cut of your jib and this is a well written piece. I, too, am an admirer of Churchill. He was a product of his age and held views that are no longer fashionable but he genuinely believed that the British Empire was a force for good (certainly compared with several previous empires although I think we made a terrible mistake in teaching lots of people how to play cricket). I agree he would have evolved new opinions and would have welcomed a united Europe as an alternative to the bloodletting he lived through.
    He offered, in May 1940 , joint citizenship with France – if they held out – and if the Blitzkrieg had been blunted we could well be in a political union with France now.

  • “Rejected by Dundee”, indeed? Well that really clinches it…..

  • “We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed. If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.”

    Purportedly ascribed to Winston Churchill.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Apr '16 - 3:25pm

    The way for “electorates to hold MEPs to account” is to vote in European Parliamentary elections. Of course, there is the problem that voters in the UK (much less so in other countries) tend to use these elections other things, such as protesting against the government of the day, or as a proxy for the In/Out debate (not something that MEPs have any influence over, as they legislate for the EU as a whole). That’s their funeral, although it doesn’t help that in this country political parties hardly ever base their European election campaigns on the records of their MEPs or on their specifically conservative/liberal/socialist visions of Europe. In 2014 in the UK, only the Green Party ran a European election campaign on EU issues, by which I mean those issues affecting the EU as a whole that are debated and voted on by MEPs. This is why hardly anyone can name their MEP or have any idea what MEPs actually do: our political parties choose not to base their Euro election campaigns on it.

    Also MEPs are not there to represent “national interests”. There is no uniform “British interest” for EU policy: a UK banker and a UK low-paid worker have very different interests in how EU law and policy should look. MEPs do not sit or vote as national delegations: they sit in party groups by ideology. This is because a British low-paid worker is likely to have similar interests in EU policy to a German low-paid worker, and the same goes for the bankers. The effectiveness of the European Parliament comes from its independence from the nation states (whose interests are represented in the European Council). It is probably the most transparent of the 3 EU institutions, as you know how each MEP votes, and they are directly accountable to the electorate. Compare that with the UK representatives to the Council, who are not necessarily accountable to the Westminster Parliament (in many other countries there is such accountability).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Apr '16 - 3:46pm

    David Raw , correctly points out the many flaws and failures of Churchill , but as I have mentioned on my piece about Queen Elizabeth 1, context is all with understanding past and present !There is as much to celebrate in the life and work of Churchill , as to cite as awful .

    Your article is one we should celebrate! It has a very upbeat feel about it , I like.
    This is yet more evidence from you as to why our newer members have much to offer ! Very positive , nuanced and encouraging contribution to the EU debate.

  • David Allworthy 11th Apr '16 - 7:06pm


    Another useful Churchill quote on the European project for you:

    As he said in the House of Commons in 1950, in response to the Schuman Declaration which launched the whole EU project:

    “We are prepared to consider and, if convinced, to accept the abrogation of national sovereignty, provided that we are satisfied with the conditions and the safeguards … national sovereignty is not inviolable, and it may be resolutely diminished for the sake of all men in all the lands finding their way home together.”

  • Richard Underhill 11th Apr '16 - 8:12pm

    World Wars one and two were abrogations of sovereignty for many, as my former MP knew very well.

  • The EU is the antithesis of democracy. To try to say it enhances our sovereignty is devious nonsense.

  • Churchill was a good Prime Minister for the wartime coalition government. Outside of that he was almost invariably wrong and never that popular. The reality is that after WWII the electorate, including most of those who served in the armed forces who in the life and death physical sense actually saved Britain, voted him out at the first available opportunity.

    The thing about Churchill is that although he undoubtedly was a good wartime PM, he was also undoubtedly a tireless self-publicist. No one ever really claims Roosevelt as the saviour the free world or for that matter now accredits Stalin with the honour, but in Britain we still seem stuck on personality cults that distort history.

  • Thank you for this wonderful article – big picture, positive. Churchill would have absolutely seen the geopolitical reality (as indeed, I even believe Margaret Thatcher would have done). NB. This article is not about Churchill, but doing what is in the long-term interest of the UK and the wider world, namely to remain in the EU, reforming it from the inside.

  • John Innes,
    If it’s not about Churchill why mention him? No one on here has any idea what Churchill would say about the EU or anything else. You could use some things to say he would be in the pro camp, but you could equally argue that he was a very traditional Tory along the lines of Jacob Reece-Mogg. We can only really go on what we actually know of Churchill and he was in fact a staunch imperialist, very much out of step with ordinary voters on most social issues and by modern standards very right wing on racial matters. You might as well argue that Wellington would be pro EU or for that matter Jesus would be in the Green Party. The point is that historic figures are not pawns in a rhetorical/propaganda battle that can be taken out of context. Churchill wasn’t pro EU because the EU didn’t even exist until 1992 and Jesus is a religious figure not a political one etc.

  • Hi all

    Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment. My hope was, at the least, to stimulate debate.

    John – the positive comments are very much appreciated. You make my point much more succinctly that I do: this is about seeing the geopolitics and the need for the UK to retake for a lead, both for our self-interest and for the interests of allies and friends. Lorenzo, thank you also again for the encouragement!

    Glenn – perhaps you are right that Wellington and Jesus would have been pro EU. We just don’t have many EU-based first hand quotes from them (apart from the large blog that Peter and Paul etc initiated). Whereas for Churchill, we have Heath’s 1996 account, have a read of it!

    David R – thank you too, I am in full agreement that my focus was partial. For the record, I am a follower of Gladstone and Lloyd George (and Lincoln, Tolstoy, Equiano and Elizabeth Pease for that matter), any day over Churchill. But Churchill’s character resonates with the UK public more than most, and he is a good hook into a blog.

    That is in no way to excuse imperialist, anti women or anti Indian or anti Boer or anti black etc views or actions. It is more to focus on Churchill’s better angels and, and to challenge the Boris and UKIP insinuations that patriotism = vote leave.

    Thank you again to all – and look forward to more debate!

  • Christian de Vartavan 13th Apr '16 - 7:50am

    Mr Raw is saying that the article is partial and unhistoric view of Churchill but frankly as an historian I have rarely seen such partial comment on Churchill’s achievements and one which I will not hesitate to state as moreover ungrateful considering the latter’s deeds for the nation.

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