Saturday, 26 March 2016

A United Kingdom constrained only by itself


Why do people choose to support leaving the EU? Why are others keen to remain? It might be that over the years we’ve all been weighing up the pros and cons. But I suspect this isn’t how most people reason. Rather someone who already supports remaining in the EU looks for all the awful things that would happen if the UK were to leave. Alternatively, someone who already supports leaving discounts all these awful things and seeks instead all the horrible things that will happen if we remain in the EU and all the wonderful things that will happen if we leave. Meanwhile both sides ignore, but also try to undermine each other’s arguments. There’s huge amounts of noise, but no-one much is persuaded, at least not by the arguments.

But how do we get to the stage of supporting either side. I think it’s to do with how we see ourselves and the sort of person we want to be. Whatever faults the EU may have, there’s a part of me that sympathises with the ideal of bringing down borders and bringing people together. I would even go further and say that the idea of one world without countries has quite a lot going for it. Imagine if there were a single world government democratically elected. Imagine if there was free trade and free movement of people? Is this not to imagine the end to poverty, the end to prejudice and the end to all divisions in humanity? This begins to resemble something close to heaven upon earth. I think pro EU people tend to see themselves as internationalist. They feel that the UK is sharing in something larger than our own little country. They support the EU in the same way that they support the United Nations and all other international bodies. It feels virtuous to do so.

I sympathise with this viewpoint. To an extent I even share it. But over the years I’ve become a little cynical. I don’t think the ideal can be fulfilled. However much I like the aims of internationalism, I’ve come to realise that there is a reason that there are sovereign nation states. They fulfil a human need. The stage we are at in Europe just now is such that we are simply not ready for internationalism. We will not be able to create a democratic United States of Europe, though we may be able to create an undemocratic one. We are certainly not ready for a world without countries and without borders. We are perhaps further away from this than we have ever been. Some people may find this view overly pessimistic, but we have to face facts. The attempt to bring down borders and create unity among European countries is failing.

The two main methods by which the EU is supposed to come closer together is Schengen and the Euro. The Euro has exposed the idea that there is a single European people with a common European identity. Germans are unwilling to transfer money to Greeks, because Greeks are not Germans. Contrast this with the situation in the UK. We may squabble in Britain, but it is because we have a shared identity that we are willing to transfer money to our fellow citizens without limit. 

Well over two million EU citizens live in the UK. Rather fewer Brits live in the EU. The arrangement works pretty well. The UK economy benefits from European workers while we get to retire somewhere warmer.  The UK has been able to deal with this migration with little or no difficulty. If the UK, over the next few years, were going to receive another million people from Poland, it’s not entirely clear that we would even notice. Free movement of people within the EU has been almost entirely beneficial both to us and to those who move. Why then is Schengen failing? Why is everyone putting up fences? Schengen is collapsing because Europeans, even internationalists, have discovered the limit to their internationalism.

While most EU countries can accept without much difficulty migration from within the EU, migration from outside the EU is a different matter. If we were all complete internationalists, why should we care where someone comes from? Why do we discriminate against our fellow human beings? Why don’t we just bring down all the fences and let in everyone who wants to come? What would happen if we did?

In the course of a few weeks last year over a million people arrived in Germany. How many would arrive if we removed all restrictions and allowed everyone to come. The EU predicts that in the next couple of years another three million migrants will arrive. What if we were even more welcoming? How many might come then? Where would they live? We don’t know. But in all likelihood they would live in various suburbs of large cities with each other. People tend to want to live with others who are similar to them. They want to be able to speak their native language and to be amongst people who think and act as they do. It is natural for them to want to do this.

Over the next few years and especially if the number of migrants increases greatly, a number of European cities are going to gain suburbs which will be dominated by people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East. Will these cities be safer or less safe than they are now? If you think they will be safer, then by all means tear down all the fences and allow in everyone who wants to come. If on the other hand you think that certain suburbs of Paris or Brussels are not the safest places in Europe, then perhaps you will begin to understand why other Europeans are not quite as internationalist as you are. If you don’t want such a suburb where you live, you might also admit that you too are not quite the internationalist you thought yourself to be.

When something bad happens it is important to blame those who did it and not to blame those who did nothing wrong. I am not to blame for the fact that Britain took part in the slave trade, nor is a modern day Russian to blame for the awful things that happened in the 1930s. Collective guilt and collective punishment means punishing the innocent. It is senseless therefore to blame the group for the actions of an individual. Terrorism is the fault of terrorists, it isn’t the fault of anyone else.

But we are ignoring the lessons of history if we think that Europe can absorb an indefinite amount of people from the Middle East and North Africa. We only have Europe at all because, for example, at the Battle of Tours in 732 the Franks were able to defeat the Umayyad Caliphate. We only have countries like Greece, Bulgaria and Romania because they were able in the 19th century to liberate themselves from the Ottoman Empire. Europe would be very different indeed today if during the siege ofVienna in 1683 someone had chosen to open the gate.

In the process of driving out the Moors from Spain many innocent people were killed. It wasn’t just soldiers, who were defeated, but their wives and their children. People who had been born in Al Andalus and whose family had lived there for centuries were exiled forever. Such experiences must have been commonplace not only in Spain, but throughout Eastern and Southern Europe. Many blameless people must have suffered. They must have found this terribly unjust. But it is on this foundation that the Europe that we know was built. Without it we wouldn’t have the EU, because we wouldn’t have Europe. The Pope may complain about walls, but if it hadn't been for the reversal of the conquest of parts of Italy, we wouldn't have a Pope.    

I want to treat everyone as an equal and not to be unjust or unkind to anyone I meet. The UK has benefited from people coming here from all over the world. But there has to be a limit. No reasonable person can be against all migration. Moreover, we must do what we can to help those who are suffering because of war, poverty and persecution. But we do not have an obligation to harm our own society. If helping an unlimited number of migrants means making our own society less safe, then I’m sorry but there must be a limit to our help.

The EU’s failure to control its borders is the greatest threat to our security in decades. An unarmed army can more easily occupy territory precisely because there is no-one to fight. If the EU is going to allow millions of migrants to become EU citizens, this has the power to change Europe in the short and the long term beyond all recognition. In that case for safety’s sake it may be necessary for the UK to think seriously about whether we wish to continue to allow unlimited migration from the EU. If the EU can’t control its external border, it will be too unsafe for the UK to remain in the EU.

It’s time for us all to be honest with ourselves. Of course we all want to feel virtuous and internationalist, but does being in the EU help or hinder the UK in our task of defending our border? Do EU rules prevent us from deporting those people who we know hate the UK and wish to do us harm? Will the EU force us to accept a share of the migrants that are a consequence of its own failure to defend Europe’s border? Would it be easier for the UK to determine who we want to allow to come here if UK law were not subordinate to EU law? The answer to all these questions is obvious.

There are some people who think that there is nothing to be done and we just have to accept that our cities will be under constant threat and that the danger will continue to grow.  No doubt there were defeatists at each of the key moments of European history when we first halted an enemy who until that point had seemed unstoppable and then gradually turned defeat into victory.  

Don't be pessimistic, don't be defeatist. With a British Government that is not subordinate to anyone else and with a British people confident that it can meet all challenges and win, there is no limit to what we can do. We don't know what dangers the future will bring, but we know that every time we have been victorious in the past it was because we have had a UK Parliament constrained only by itself. Until and unless we restore this, we will always be at risk from the decisions of others over which we have no control. Let us have the confidence to defeat all future dangers in the way that we have always done, by relying most of all on ourselves. After all, we've a pretty good record of doing so. 

5 comments:

  1. You considerably overstate Britain's "autarchic" abilities to overcome challenges; it betrays a somewhat shallow grasp of both history and geopolitics. I wouldn't deny that Britain had many positive things going for it historically which help explain our success in fighting off serious threats, but your ideological blinkers blind you to the context within which these factors operated. Advantages like being an island, a strong (even for an extended period invincible) navy, strong and stable institutions and the ability to raise capital and mobilise resources in the service of fighting wars all have to be set against our continued need for allies, and the ability to stop hegemonic powers dominating the international system by using our influence to stop such powers on a continuing basis.

    Even if we restrict ourselves to the relatively modern period, Britain would not have been able to overcome Napoleon without Prussian and Russian help. Similarly, it would not have been able to overcome the German threat of either the Second or Third Reich without allies, nor the Russian threat post WW2 without the USA and NATO.

    The days of Splendid Isolation are over. Of course Britain can survive and thrive outside the EU. The sky won't fall down if the Leave camp win in June. However, to believe that brexit will significantly change our ability to defend our borders, deport undesirables, shun refugees, or enact laws which will somehow magically improve matters in terms of migration (legal and illegal) and dealing with refugees and economic migrants, is a total leap in the dark in itself, but also not something that can be empirically proven.

    Much like the debate on Scottish independence, the issue of brexit is in the end a matter of balancing risks and opportunities. Whether one is more convinced of the cases for and against either issue rests on a whole raft of reasons which will differ from individual to individual. What the indyref campaign demonstrated pretty clearly is that neither side has the monopoly on truth, and that extremists exist in both camps. Viewing the past through rose tinted spectacles like yours however Effie, doesn't help make things clearer it just makes them more opaque.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "or enact laws which will somehow magically improve matters in terms of migration (legal and illegal) and dealing with refugees and economic migrants, is a total leap in the dark in itself, but also not something that can be empirically proven"

      Not quite true, by being part of the EU many European states are facing the prospect of having to swallow Mama Merkel's open door policy by proxy (redistribution). Outside the EU they would have not have to entertain such obligations.

      Delete
    2. You can't have it all ways: if you are in the club, then abide by the rules, or if you disagree with the rules campaign to have them changed or if your are an irreconcilable then leave the club. The crisis in Iraq/Syria is very largely one of "our" making. If we aren't prepared to ensure that millions aren't driven from their homes by either directly intervening, or formulating a coherent long term policy of building alternatives to despots like Assad in terms of pro-Western, secular forces, and them helping them via training, resources, creation of safe havens etc., then you are going to have these kinds of crises.

      The open door policy may be misconceived, and probably didn't envisage the scale of the tide of refugees from Syria in particular, but the alternatives either haven't worked, or weren't tried. Giving refuge to refugees may be the only humane short term solution; if so (which I recognise many don't accept) it seems only fair that everyone should contribute, and not expect the immediately neighbouring countries and the coalition of the willing like Germany & a few others to be the only ones willing to host them. As in the Balkan conflicts, it's likely that the majority would be happier to return to Syria than stay once peace has been re-established.

      Delete
  2. Whomever is really in control of the EU seems to relish making 'progress' (greater integration) via crises. The financial crisis of 2007 prompted a need for tighter controls on national sovereign debt within the Eurozone. Now the 'migrant crisis' invites greater co-ordination on foreign policy matters within the EU. The UK policy was to bolster support for refugees in the areas immediately bordering the conflicts (Jordan / Turkey...), the polar opposite of Mama Merkel's policy of inviting everyone in for tea which was then transformed into being a policy expected of all other EU nations (by proxy). Whilst it is not credible to suggest these crises are engineered, they are certainly seized upon as opportunities to introduce change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or maybe its the Germans just taking a less insular view of the world and seeing that something needs top be done.

      Delete