Throughout the entirety of this referendum the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign have attempted to play on your identities and emotions by conflating the idea of Europe and the European Union. They would have you believe that you are voting on membership of Europe, and by association that Brexit involves casting aside our European friends and allies. They are wrong. The continent of Europe is a great one, the history and culture of which binds its nations – from the giants of France and Germany to the tiny nations of Liechtenstein and Monaco. It is a continent whose common history, cultural advancements and shared destiny has shaped the Britain we see today.
But European cooperation and European identity are not what is being disputed. I have not yet met any of the so-called ‘Little Englanders’ whom the In campaign paint as being isolationist. If anything, the campaign that is isolationist is the one which says that 28 nations acting together and trading together, is superior to 197 nations living, trading, cooperating as one. I want to embrace Europe in the same way that I want to embrace the world, but I do not wish to share a political union with them and I do not wish to share a Common External Tariff with them which cuts us off from the world.
European history shows us that we are at our best when we work to benefit all of us. The European Union simply does not do this. The EU is a system which does not benefit the nations of our great continent. It provides us with a political system which undermines our democracy. Legislation that populaces from Aberdeen to Athens did not vote for. Legislation that populaces from Stockholm to Sicily can do nothing to effect. Legislation which is proposed exclusively by an undemocratic body so unfit for democratic rule that its Chief Legislator openly talks about antidemocratic actions against countries who fail to fall into line. When Jean-Claude Juncker’s reaction to the people of Austria coming to within a hair’s breadth of electing a far right President is to talk about banning political parties, one does have to ask whether the European Union does justice to our continent’s proud history.
As a continent, we have always sought to expand our horizons – to do more, to trade more, to innovate more. So lets. There is, on the European continent, a wonderful, progressive union which enables trade with the great nations of Europe and the great nations of the world. A progressive economic union, not a regressive customs union. I talk, of course, about EFTA. The alternative agreement which Iceland, Norway and Switzerland all benefit from.
Shall we stop talking about identity? Shall we stop pretending that the European Union is the only way to engage with Europe, to trade with Europe, to be a part of Europe? Shall we stop belittling the people of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City, Turkey, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova by implying that not being in the club means you are not in Europe?
Europe is a great continent. It has done great things and has a proud history. From Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome right through to the modern day we have been a proud continent of innovators and inventors, of scholars and artists, of poets and playwrights. Most importantly, we have been a continent of friends and neighbours. The EU is a political organisation – we will always be part of Europe. Together, let’s be able to turn to Europe, hold our heads a little bit higher and on June 23rd let’s say to our European friends, neighbours and allies that we love Europe, but the EU is not Europe and it does not represent it.
The EU does not do justice to our proud history and our proud cultures. The EU is not Europe, the EU does not benefit Europe, and it does not benefit Britain. Let’s be part of Europe but not the EU.