Nick Clegg: Keep calm but do not carry on
The argument I want to make this evening is the following – that the Brexit debate, the debate about our place in the European Union is not a debate at all about the EU.
It’s not a debate at all about the form and pattern on future of European integration. It is in fact a debate about us, about our identity and the Brexit debate has mutated really to become an increasingly visceral debate about who we are as a nation, how we identified ourselves as a national community, and how we feel about our own future. And that debate has become equivalent to a culture war, which I will elaborate upon. And for that reason, it has become increasingly fashionable, even amongst those who are finding it a real struggle to be reconciled with the idea that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, that because of the visceral nature of this cultural conflict, for which Brexit has become the prime catalyst, the United Kingdom shouldn’t, mustn’t, indeed can’t exacerbate that conflict by reopening the Brexit debate altogether. And I will seek to explain why I think that that argument, that in a sense that there is no merit, or indeed that it is perilous to reopen the debate about Brexit, is deeply, and in my view, dangerously misguided. Indeed, I will argue that the best chances for us as a country to find our way back towards a path of greater national harmony relies heavily on our ability to reopen and resettle the question about Britain’s status in the European Union.
So that’s my arguments and I like to think, this being the John Donne lecture and I strongly suspect that every single speaker, ever since this speaker series started has at some point gratuitously quoted John Donne to say that ‘no man is an island, entire of itself‘, and I’m going to follow suit by quoting precisely those lines, because they do seem unusually apposite; ‘that no man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less as well as if a promontory worth’. I think it is eerily apposite to recite those extraordinarily famous lines from John Donne.
Behind all this of course, lingers the question about why is it that the United Kingdom, in contrast to most other European Union Member States, why has there been this anguished, contorted intensity about our own debate about Britain’s place in Europe? Why is it that we seem so much more unsettled, uncomfortable, and acrimonious in discussing our European identity compared to pretty well almost all other major member states. Now some say, because we were on the winning side of the war or others say, because we have this natural affinity with the United States, or even in this week of the Heads of State of the Commonwealth meeting, we have a deep attachment to the English-speaking world. Others say recent memories of being an imperial, global power make it more difficult for us to embrace our European identity. I think all of those reasons are perhaps good ones, in and of themselves and maybe concatenate to contribute to this very anguished and almost uniquely anguished debate that we have, but I think that one of the clues to our highly emotive ambivalence about our place in Europe can in large part be traced back to the psychological and emotional circumstances in which we joined the ‘club’ in the first place. And I think it’s worth just dwelling a little on that history, because I believe the circumstances in which we joined the European Community in the early 1970s, set us very singularly apart from the circumstances and the feelings that other member states had as they joined the European Club in their own different way. My wife as you may know is Spanish, and if you speak with folk in Spain, Portugal, Greece – that belt of Mediterranean countries all of which experienced different ways of military dictatorships before they joined the democratic club of the European Community – it is very, very apparent that joining the European Community said something positive and affirmative about those countries’ modern identities. I remember it very well, Miriam comes from a small agricultural community in the middle of the arid plains of the Castile and Leon and her aunts and uncles were sugar beet farmers in that part of Spain. Her mum was the Chemistry teacher for 30 years in the only village school and her dad was the local mayor. It’s not exactly on the tourist trail. In 25 years of visiting the only British person I’ve ever met there was a photographer from the Daily Mail, who subsequently published a picture which was particularly unflattering of me and said, ‘Who has eaten all the paella Nick?’ I had a particularly large belly in the photo.
Anyway, I digress. I remember vividly speaking to one of Miriam’s uncles who had farmed in that part of Spain all of his life. He didn’t really know too much about how the European Community worked, or the ins and outs of how exactly Spain joined the European Community, but I will never forget how he puffed out his chest with immense pride, that Spain was now a part of the modern family of democracies and that being part of the European Community said something so viscerally positive and uplifting about Spain’s modern identity after the Franco years. Similarly, if you speak to folk in Central-Eastern Europe, even now with the sharp and very worrying turn towards chauvinism, nationalism and xenophobia in parts of Central-Eastern Europe. Even now speaking to folk in Hungary or Poland or other countries in that part of Europe, being part of the European Union symbolises above and beyond everything else freedom after Soviet Communism. In other words, joining the European Union was an indispensable step in the reassertion of the new national identities free of the yoke of Soviet Communism, and so also if for different reasons for Miriam’s uncle there was a powerful and emotional resonance to joining the European Club. If you speak particularly to older folk in the founding member states of the European Community – Benelux, France, Italy and Germany – it was above and beyond everything else not about the European Coal and Steel Community, not about the creation of the Common Agricultural Policy, not about all the complexities with which Schuman, Monnet and the other founding fathers (fathers rather than mothers). It wasn’t about the complexities of that. It was above and beyond everything else about an affirmation of peace after war. So, modernity, democracy, freedom, peace – these are some of the most powerful, national identifiers you can possibly imagine. We though, did something completely different. We stayed aloof in that classic, rather patronising way. British officials wrote lofty notes saying ‘Johnny Foreigners’ trying to cook up something in Europe, but it won’t go anywhere, it’s best we stay out of it and we’ll just pat them on their pretty little heads and let them get on with it, it won’t go anywhere after all. And then we latterly decided we did want to join and then General de Gaulle loftily told us to get lost and we crawled back on our knees. Then we joined in 1973, and then we weren’t sure about it, and then we had a referendum in the mid-1970s, where there was no discussion about a national identity, or national emotion or national mission. There was no poetry to it. It was if the country was invited to take out a pocket calculator and make some finely tuned cost benefit analysis about the price of New Zealand butter, or lamb cutlets as if the whole wider debate about our European identity and this astonishing birth of supra-national governance in our cluttered, blood-drenched, messy, patchwork continent could all be reduced to some cost benefit calculation as if you are trying to work out what the cost of the weekly shop is. In other words, we shuffled in prosaically. We did it with a shrug of the shoulders. We’d been rebuffed. We joined out of a sense of resignation – if we can’t beat them then we might as well join them. There was nothing uplifting at all. There was nothing which fused and merged our membership of the European Club with our new modern national identity and for older voters in particular, the very act of joining the European Community, I would suggest at some subliminal level, almost reminded them that the country was no longer as great as it once was. That it was almost an admission of defeat. We were no longer able to rule the waves on our own, we had to fall in and, worst of all, it wasn’t even invented by us. I think parenthetically there is something relatively similar to the sense of exceptionalism that you hear in parts of Scandinavia. If you listen to some of the debates in Scandinavia you’ll hear echoes of that exceptionalism here where the Swedes might say:
well we have this perfect welfare state, we felt we couldn’t persist with it in glorious isolation. We had to throw our lot in with the rest of Europe. We didn’t really want to – we kind of had to.
Setting that aside for the moment, certainly amongst the largest and most important member states, I think that ambivalence has been emotionally baked into the cake, right from the very first moment we joined the European Union. Of course, when we then had that fateful referendum on the 23 June 2016, oddly enough history both repeated itself almost exactly, but also something very new occurred as well. History repeated itself in the following way: once again, we were invited by David Cameron and George Osbourne and others to take out our pocket calculators, so we might be marginally better off according with this scheme or that calculation, or that statistical projection. There was no attempt at all by the leaders of the Referendum to say that being part of the European Union, given the wider insecurities of the world, was essential in order to provide the prosperity and security and the environmental sustainability that our citizens crave. That it is consistent with our modern British identity to be a leading member. It was all endless specious arguments about claim and statistical counter-claim. It was a bloodless argument, and no wonder the much more emotive refrain of ‘taking back control’ in this scary, uncertain, footless and fancy-free world, spoke to the heart. And by the way, and boy do I know this, I’ve tested it to destruction. People vote with the heart and not with the head. The head at election time is almost always used by us to justify and to rationalise what we feel. And the pro-remain argument in the summer of 2016 was primarily made, as you will all remember by David Cameron, along roughly the following lines:
I don’t particularly like the European Union. I think I made it a tiny bit better, a little less worse, please vote for it.
How uninspiring is that?
To illustrate by anecdote I remember very well, because I played no role in the national debate as it would have been highly inappropriate for me to do so when I was concentrating my campaigning efforts in my then Constituency, standing behind a trestle table adorned with pro-European leaflets, balloons and t-shirts and heaven knows what else, and trying to interest shoppers in south-west Sheffield. I noticed very quickly (this was about ten days before the Referendum), that people who drove past and honked their horns and waved their hands would proudly say ‘We’re for Brexit’ – all in good humour by the way. I’ll never forget, for this was where the penny dropped with me, an elderly couple carrying Waitrose bags came up to me and whispered: ‘We’re for Remain’. And I’ve been in politics long enough to know, if people feel so sheepish about how they’re going to vote, they tend to be on the losing side. I remember getting in touch with David Cameron by email and saying ‘I don’t know what your over-paid, antipodean Lynton Crosby is telling you about (the papers were full at the time about how it was all going to be a breeze, and how Remain was going to win and so on), but I have to say to you if, in a pretty middle-class area like Sheffield Hallum, all the momentum and pride, all the wind seems to be in the sails of the Brexiteers, then that doesn’t seem too good to me. And he said, ‘well what do you suggest?’ I just think for the last ten days of this campaign, you need to come up with something which competes emotionally with this very, very powerful refrain, which I’ve heard constantly ‘take back control’. Why don’t you try something like:
Vote to stay in Europe to keep us safe, to keep your kids safe from recession, to keep your kids safe from cross-border crime, from environmental degradation.
Because I thought first it was three words which were ‘Keep us safe’, but I thought safety was a more visceral thing – everyone wants to keep their children, their grandchildren safe knows that there is safety in numbers – emotionally more compelling. By the way I have no evidence that that would have made the slightest bit of difference. But I only retell that story to demonstrate how much the rather listless way in which the European case had been made when we first joined in the 1970s was echoed and repeated exactly, in almost carbon-copy form in the Summer of 2016. But then of course, since then, something has happened which almost serves as a rupture from that pragmatic shrug of the shoulders, unexcitable and unexcited pro-European sentiment, which is that part of the counter-reaction to the Referendum has been that millions of people in this country, obviously not everybody (far from it), but those who identify themselves as pro-Europeans have now found that passion and that emotion and that drive and that commitment and that conviction, which has always been so lacking in British politics. And the great irony is, just at the point (and I’ll come to this in a minute) where it may be too late to do anything about it, many, many people and particularly young people appear to have found an emotional commitment to our European identity, which has always, always hitherto been lacking in British politics and in the public discourse around our European future.
If you ask pollsters – I was talking to some the other day – and they said, if you now ask a random but representative sample of the British public a number of unrelated questions like:
- Do you think equal marriage is a good thing or a bad thing?
- Do you think the internet is a force for good or a force for ill?
- Do you believe in climate change or do you not?
- And do you believe we should be a member of the European Union or not?
The fascinating thing is, these wholly unrelated questions, which in many ways touch upon underlying distinctions between whether folk are confident about the future or fearful of it; open to change or reticent about it; open to the other, or wanting to turn away from it. Interestingly they all line up, in exactly the same way, so that the overwhelming pattern is that those who answer that they think climate change is real and needs to be tackled, are passionately in favour of equal marriage, are well-disposed towards the internet, also believe we should be part of the European Union, and that largely speaking the reverse is the case as well.
You may have read that some pollsters asserted after the Referendum that the clearest guide to how people vote on the issue of the European Union is attitudes towards capital punishment. Now that strikes me as very significant, because it means, as I said at the outset, the European question has now escaped the confines of what we think about this or that directive, or the Common Agricultural Policy, or whether Brussels has an attractive way of taking decisions or not, and has actually escaped into the wider bloodstream of the debate about who we are as a community. Optimistic or fearful? Open or closed? Forward looking or wishing to seek the comfort of certainties in the past? And that of course is one of the reasons why there are an increasing number of commentators and politicians who, even where they proclaim, as many of them do, that they are very sad about the decision to leave the European Union, feel that it would be extremely bad for the country. Nonetheless, they continue to argue, that because this has become such a visceral issue, this is as I have sought to explain, feeding so directly into profound fault lines that reach into our history and divide people across the country according to their wider world views that it is just, they argue, simply too dangerous to reopen that altogether. People have become too angry and it has become too acrimonious. It has set rich against poor; educated versus those who are less educated; young and the old; the North and the South; London, Northern Ireland, Scotland compared to the rest. It has created such divisions in our society, that the one thing we should now avoid is reopening it altogether. And in fact, as you may have seen, there are increasing numbers of people who say:
it’s so perilous to do this that it may risk civil disobedience, violence and a wider conflagration of political turbulence in this country. Just imagine how those people are going to feel, who were asked to vote on Brexit, voted on Brexit and then the whole thing is to be reopened again, you’re not going to give them any other option but to resort to evermore extreme measures to make their views heard.
It’s a logical argument, but I want to explain to you why I, by contrast, think that, setting aside the fact that it’s a form of intellectual intimidation to be told that you cannot continue to have a debate in a democracy because people may resort to violence which is in my view reason enough to ignore it, I want to go and argue why I think it is essential that we don’t listen to that counsel of passivity, but Instead continue to take every opportunity to reopen this all-important issue.
Thus, the title Keep Calm but do not carry on. And there are three principal reasons for that. First, and I feel I do not need to dwell too much, but it is immensely important, there is no example, that I am aware of at least, of anywhere in the democratic world of a sophisticated and mature democracy taking such a radical and abrupt decision about its own future, against the explicit and stated wishes of those who have to inhabit the future. No other democracy has ever done that in the modern era. It is an extraordinary thing to do, to invite millions of people to cast their vote on 23June 2016 and then to ignore their views completely. Despite the normal depiction of young people as being incapable or unwilling to exercise their democratic choice, most estimates, though often imprecise, are imprecise, suggest that the turnout for 18-24 was over 60%. Not as high as some of the higher age bracket, where turnout was extraordinarily high, over 90%, but still much higher than is conventionally the case. And over 70% (it is estimated) of those 18-24-year-old voters almost overwhelmingly (it’s almost North Korean in its weight) voted for a different future. No other democracy anywhere in the world, and certainly not in the developed world, has ever done this before: to invite millions of youngsters to express their view about the future which they want, which they will inhabit, where they will have to pay the consequences of the decisions we take now, and then be told: ‘thank you very much, but we are going to ignore your views altogether’. And so, if there is any merit to the argument that a mature democracy should be most mindful when taking very significant (and seismic) decisions about the future, it should [also] be most mindful of those who will inhabit the future. That seems to me to assemble and create both a moral and generational argument in favour of allowing the country to re-open the and reconsider this issue. That’s argument number one.
The second argument is an even more primitive one. As David Davis famously said:
a democracy that can’t change its mind ceases to be a democracy.
One of the very hallmarks of a democracy, is that a democracy is more supple and adaptable than rigid and ideologically fossilised, or totalitarian systems. That is the whole point of democracy. Boy do I know it, you vote people in and you vote them out. One moment a government is great, a politician is great, the next moment they are a villain. That’s the way it works; that’s the whole point of a democracy, that you don’t take a snapshot decision one moment and then turn that into some Biblical, Old Testament instruction, which is immutable forever. No, the world changes and the world has changed very considerably since the Summer of 2016. One of the most important strategic merits, in my view, of our membership of the European Union is that it has allowed our extraordinary country, after our dominance of world affairs as the undisputed hegemon of the nineteenth century, to have then peacefully shed an empire, and to have gracefully found a new way to deal with our relative decline compared to our standing in the early part of the twentieth century and much of the nineteenth century. There are very few other incidences of countries which go from that level of power and influence, to comparatively a much more diminished status and do so with the grace and the tranquillity that this country has done. One of the main reasons for that is that we very cleverly found a way of maintaining relevance, of punching above our weight as Foreign Office might say, by both maintaining our strong affinity with the United States – the new hegemon, the Rome to our Greece – but also remaining, or establishing a leadership role in the European continent. That sort of act of performing the splits across the Atlantic was a remarkably intelligent thing to do. We have clearly withdrawn one foot from one side of the Atlantic, but we didn’t know, in the Summer of 2016, that the other foot would also be rudely removed as well, by the arrival of this peculiar, jingoistic, scary and deeply protectionist American nationalist. And so, it seems to me that it just defies the most basic democratic principle that if the world changes around you, if the facts change, then one of the great merits of a democracy is that we retain the ability to change with those facts and with those changes in circumstance.
The third and final argument is one of accountability. I say this with some feeling as I’m a politician who famously was hung drawn and quartered for failing to deliver one policy in a one-policy area, something of great interest here in Oxford University. I wasn’t Prime Minister, I hadn’t won the election, my manifesto did not hold sway, and there was no money. But, some people might say, that’s unfair, other people might say it’s entirely merited, but that’s irrelevant. I was held to account for what I did in government, or what I was accused of not doing. That’s the way it works, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You take it on the chin, you stand for election, say stuff and people make a judgement about whether you’ve done a good job or not. That is the fundamental transmission mechanism of the way a peaceful democracy functions. That you put, that you place accountability upon the shoulders of those who are lucky enough to be put in a position of authority. What does it say to future generations of politicians? What does it say to those students amongst you who are thinking of going into politics if the liars, and those vested interests, and the industrial scale of mendacity with which the Brexit campaign was run and successfully prosecuted, wins the day without ever, ever being held to account? I’ll give you an example: one of, indisputably now alas, the most powerful individuals in this country is a man called Paul Dacre, who is the editor of the Daily Mail. You won’t have seen him, you won’t have seen any interviews with him. He is not elected by anybody. He never comes out of his lair in West London. He doesn’t meet ordinary people. He’s a very secretive, multi-millionaire. Yet he has, for reasons that would require a totally different evening’s discussion, an abnormally tight grip on how the Conservative Party acts and thinks, and I saw this for five years. I would regularly see very senior Conservatives saying:
well that’s a very good idea, but we can’t do it because Paul Dacre doesn’t like it.
He placed photos, lurid photos of the Mediterranean refugee crisis on the front page of his newspaper I think on 17 occasions in the last 24 days of the Referendum campaign. It is reported that when he had a conversation with David Cameron, in David Cameron’s prime ministerial flat above Downing Street, some point before the Referendum he pointed to the television screen which was, it is reported, on in the corner of the room where there were once again pictures of these hapless, poor people fleeing, many of them perishing in the Mediterranean on those flimsy dinghies, fleeing the conflict of Syria or elsewhere, and he said: ‘that‘s where you’re going to lose the Referendum and no other reason’. He knew that making a link, and photos of course speak more powerfully than a thousand words, in the public imagination, the wider public unease, totally understandable unease about what appeared to be uncontrolled immigration from outside the European Union into south-eastern Europe, if he could link those images to the debate about whether Britain remains a member of the European Union or not, it would be devastatingly effective, as it was. But was totally false, and had absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter at hand, and he knew that. The proof that he knew that was that those photos entirely disappeared after 10 pm when the polls closed on 23rd June 2016. What does it say to future politicians, or journalists, or aspirant media proprietors or editors if that kind of cynicism can proceed and never be held to account? What does it say, what does it do to the integrity of our model of representative democracy? If Farage, Gove, Johnson and all the other charlatans and opportunists can tell people with great effect that if only they’d put that little cross next to the box which said Brexit, we would receive the bounty, the utopian bounty of £350m extra for the NHS, smaller class sizes, lower prescription charges, lower VAT rates. I’m not making this up; that was all stuff that they said, and then they all merrily fled for the hills afterwards, chuckling and laughing. ‘Oh well, that was then’.
What does that do to our democracy? And so, the third and perhaps most compelling reason of all why I believe that it is entirely right and in line with our fundamental, democratic principles is that if we allow them to get away with this, the fundamental principle of accountability will perish too. I think that that is a principle way beyond one’s views about the European Union, or one’s ideological outlook, which is far more important than many people appreciate. So that is why I believe that members of Parliament when they come to consider the deal put forward by Teresa May and David Davis, in a so-called meaningful vote on that deal towards the end of this year, have every democratic right to exercise their judgement as our representatives about whether they think the deal in any way conforms to all of those commitments and promises made by the Brexit campaigners at the time, and whether, in their judgement, it is good for their constituents and good for their country to fast proceed down the route that we are.
But (this is the final point I wish to make), if that were to happen, if there is an opportunity for us, as a mature democracy, to revisit this question, it would be entirely within our gift and in our power to do so. If that does happen, then I make one final and very important point, another hugely important principle of democracy: in a democracy, the losers must always feel that they have a stake. The losing side in a democracy must never be left empty handed. In a democracy you vote, you win some, you lose some. If you lose some you think you may win next time and it’s essential, it is an essential ingredient to a healthy democracy, that people don’t feel they are entirely and irrevocably disenfranchised, otherwise the whole system doesn’t work. One of the reasons I stand before you, one of the reasons I have not gracefully or disgracefully hidden myself under a rock somewhere and never said anything publicly after I left the political stage, is because I am outraged by what Teresa May and the Brexiteers announced in the wake of the Referendum. She could have stood, just imagine if she had done this, she could have stood on the steps of Number 10 when she became Prime Minister (after we were fleetingly told that Andrea Leadsom may have become Prime Minister, and other surprising characters), and said:
I didn’t want us to leave the European Union but we will because that is how the British people, if by a very slender majority, voted. And I will discharge the instruction which has been placed upon me, But (she could have gone on to say) I am mindful, as everybody who has held this great office of state behind that shiny black door behind me, that I have to act not just for this generation, but future generations. And I have to act not just for the winners in this debate but for the losers as well, and for that reason I will take us out of the European Union, but I will not do so at any cost. Yes of course I will disappoint tedious remoaners like Nick Clegg and Ken Clarke and others, who think we should not leave under any circumstances, but I will also, and let me say this clearly to Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, say that we must take this decision and discharge it in the spirit of compromise, in order to reunite the country. And for that reason, I am not going to turn my back on the great achievements of one of my greatest predecessors, my heroine Margaret Thatcher who was the author of the single market. I’m not going to turn Britain’s back on the great free-trading principles that my party has fought for since the Cold War.
Can you imagine? Great speech, I think. I reckon most of us, even me, would have said in response: fair enough. She’s in a pretty invidious position. She’s leading a totally divided country, but at least she’s going to do it and everybody will have something to hold on to. But instead what did they do? They in effect said, that the 16.1million people who voted for a different future, more than have ever voted for a winning Government in recent history, basically count for nothing, and more than that, they are going to take an interpretation of Brexit which wasn’t remotely discussed during the Referendum and impose it on the country. A one-eyed, highly partial, extraordinarily uncompromising version of Brexit, in which we not only leave the political institutions of the EU, but we also leave the core economics arrangements of the Customs Union and the single market to boot. And then, when she gave that grotesque speech, in which she sought to insult and offend and denigrate almost anyone who felt that they might have any affinity with anyone else in any other country, hemisphere, continent, as citizens of nowhere. As folk who basically, the implication (it was barely an implication), the stated allegation that somehow don’t really know what it is to be British. And at that point I thought to hell with this, how dare you do this? How dare you take that slender vote and impose your own ideologically-narrow interpretation upon it. Why? Because she’s dancing to the tune of those unaccountable vested interests that I alluded to earlier.
So, if the pendulum were to swing in the next few months and years back the other way and there were to be a chance to reopen this issue, first in Parliament and then maybe eventually through a people’s vote, on the terms of any deal, I think it’s crucial for those, like me, who believe that our long-term vocation and mission as a country, as a member of the European Union, that we must not make the same mistake. We must not leave those who voted for Brexit empty-handed. I met hundreds, thousands of decent, good people, many of whom I served happily, and knew well in my own then constituency, who voted for Brexit, for perfectly understandable emotional reasons. For many of them I met, it was an ideal opportunity to kick a status quo which had served them very poorly. I understood all of that. I didn’t agree with it, but I understood it. We must never, ever repeat the mistake of the hard-line Brexiteers and ignore those and leave empty-handed those who are on the losing side in any debate or democracy. I personally think the way to do that is to ensure that we build upon what we curiously had anyway in the European Union. We kind of had, dare I say it, a kind of have your cake and eat it status within the European Union. Members of the single market but not members of Schengen. Leading members in foreign defence policy, but with an absolute national veto on those vital decisions. An exemption for a long period of time on social provisions. Not part, crucially, of the single currency. So, we’ve always had a rather atypical status, and my view is, given these profound social and cultural and historical divisions about our attitudes towards Europe, I think it’s unrealistic to imagine that the United Kingdom is ever going to be in the inner core, the inner sanctum of the European Union. But that doesn’t mean we have to fling ourselves out into outer space. We can find, in my view, a resting place, in which we’re not in the inner core but nor are we excluding ourselves so summarily and so thoroughly as we are. One vital ingredient, which I believe needs to be added to the mix, is that I personally think, it is high time now that the European Union, all of the European Union including the EU 27 as well as the United Kingdom, should revisit how we as a continent deal with the mass movement of people across borders. I am as impeccably, unquestioningly liberal on issues of free movement as anybody else, but it is simply impossible to ignore the fact that for a whole bunch of reasons – some good, some bad, some real, some perceived, some to do with the huge inflow of people across the Mediterranean from outside the European Union into the south and southeast of the continent, partly to do with the uneven way in which labour markets were open when the European community was expanding in Central-Eastern Europe – it is undoubtedly the case now (and if you needed any confirmation just look at what’s happening in elections in countries as diverse as Hungary and Italy, just in the last few weeks) that the orthodoxy of unqualified movement into and across the continent is something that does not enjoy the unqualified support of millions of our fellow citizens across the European Union. I personally think it is totally doable and deliverable, both to administer the external borders of the European Union more effectively, which I think is essential if you want to keep the borderless arrangements of the Schengen countries, as borderless as they are, whilst also introducing, in effect an emergency brake in those cases where there are exceptional levels of intra-EU immigration within the labour markets within the EU.
And so, I have sought to explain why I think there is an overwhelming democratic argument to keep the issue of our membership of the European Union alive. I have sought to explain why I think the siren voices of ‘come along, move along, better make the best of it, (it’s very British isn’t it?) let’s not grumble, get on with it now’, is actually a dangerous counsel of passivity. I’ve also sought to explain if the pendulum, and this tends to happen, certainly in politics and debates of such significance, were to swing the other way, we must learn that those of us who believe our country has a European vocation must learn from the egregious mistake of the ideological and in my view unaccountable zealotry of the hard-line Brexiteers and must make a better attempt, than they have of genuinely reuniting our deeply and sadly divided country.