There’s still over sixteen weeks to go until June 23rd, but when the referendum finally rolls around I will be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. This hasn’t been a hard decision for me, and I’ve been making many of the same arguments for Britain to stay a member of the EU since the 1990s. This post, though, is about explaining my reasoning as to why Britain is better off as a member of the EU, not an attempt at soaring polemic.
My starting point is that Britain is a European country. Geographically, culturally, historically, and economically, we are a part of Europe. Europe is not a homogeneous mass, but a place where multiple stories combine into a bigger whole. Being British and European isn’t a zero-sum game where one must reduce as the other increases, just as one can simultaneously be English and British, or a Brummie and English. We all juggle multiple political and cultural identities all the time, be they local, regional, national, or continental and to be one doesn’t diminish all the others. To say that we are a European country is not to forget that Britain exists, it’s a part of what makes Britain what it is.
What’s also key to my decision is the world we live in now. We’re no longer in a world where nation-states are the be-all and end-all of political, economic and social power. Nation-states may just about cling to their monopoly of force, but they are no longer monopolies of power for their people. Corporations have become vast behemoths far outside the control of individual states, the internet makes a mockery of national borders as a cultural boundary and forces from terrorism to climate change are truly global problems, not local ones.
For me, the idea that leaving the EU would somehow reclaim our ‘sovereignty’ as a nation is an argument that rests on facts that there were never really true. Just about every nation and state in human history has relied on some form of co-operation and mutual agreement with other states in order to function and provide a decent quality of life to its inhabitants. That’s even more the case now, in our world where power exists as much outside states as within it, as the Economist points out:
To live with globalisation is to acknowledge that many laws (both those devised by governments and those which bubble up at no one’s behest) are international beasts whether we like it or not. If sovereignty is the absence of mutual interference, the most sovereign country in the world is North Korea.
The question this referendum asks us gives us the choice of how we want the UK to interact with the rest of the world. Unless we want to follow the route of North Korea into autarky and refusing to interact with the rest of the world except on the most basic levels, we have to deal with the treaties, agreements and institutions that make up the formal world of international politics as well as the networks of power, influence and money that make up the informal part of it. One country on its own has very little chance of wielding influence on the global stage, unlike 28 countries working together in one of the planet’s largest blocs of political and economic power.
The UK is going to have to work together with other nations to achieve anything on the international stage, and the EU gives us the ability to work together with 27 other nations that we already have strong links with, on top of the economic benefits that have come from the last seven decades of bringing Europe closer together. Since 1945, we’ve seen the massive benefits to everyone that comes from the nations of Europe working together, and those benefits have included one of the longest periods without a pan-European war in history. That’s not solely because of the EU, but it’s one of the pillars on which that peace was built, binding together the economies of Europe to provide the mutual interest that drove the NATO alliance.
The European Union is a long way from perfect, and needs a whole host of reforms to make it work better and for the benefit of the citizens, not the governments. But I think the same things about the government of the UK as well, which needs just as many reforms as the EU, if not more, and yet I’d much rather see that reformed than leave it. However, if we want to reform the EU to make it better, we need to be a willing participant in it, not sitting on the edge of the room deciding whether to leave or not, or even outside it all together, shouting instructions to a meeting we’ve just stormed out of.
I want the UK to be influential in the world, and I want us to use that influence to tackle the unaccountable power that affects all of us. Because I think our influence is maximised by being part of something bigger and because I think the European ideal can still be wielded to bring power to all the people of Europe, I want the UK to remain part of the European Union and that’s why I’ll be voting to remain on June 23rd.