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Europe beyond Economics

June 12, 2015 11:04 AM
By Christopher Beazley in British Influence
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

As the Bill to establish a Referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom should remain a Member of the E.U. was debated on Tuesday the electorate is now faced with the reality of deciding our country's future, possibly as early as in May of next year.

The great majority of the public will be concerned to make their decision on which course best secures the interests of the country, political and economic, and hence the interests of their own communities and families and will be much less fascinated by the fall- out on the political parties at Westminster. One notable exception may be the consideration of whether a "No" vote might accelerate renewed demands for the break up of the UK itself, led by the Scottish Nationalists, with support from many in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Clearly the impact on Britain's economy of either course will be much debated and the Confederation of British Industry and pro European Spokesmen will be able to demonstrate how much we have gained in jobs, in exports, in inward investment from the achievement of the Single Market and how all of this would be imperilled by withdrawal. In yesterday's debate Ken Clarke cited the Norwegian and Swiss examples of being obliged to adopt and enact EU legislation while having no say in its formulation.

While the economic arguments are key, it has always been one of the greatest fallacies in the European debate that the EU was designed for and should be exclusively about economic matters. After all Britain's experience before joining was of setting up E.F.T.A, the European Free Trade Association, which proved utterly inadequate in representing Britain's interests and nearly all of whose members followed Britain's example of joining the E.U..

As well as the establishment of the Single Market, the other most significant achievement of the E.U has been to facilitate the re-unification of the European family, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, enabling Central and Eastern European countries, until then trapped behind the Iron Curtain, to join the EU and NATO.

For Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and subsequently Romania and Bulgaria this finally represented the end of the Soviet domination and occupation, which had been their legacy from the 2nd World War for nearly fifty years. This matters to us because the security of our continent matters to us. Those of my immediate post-war generation will remember only too well the repeated repressions of East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland under Stalin, Brezhnev and their Warsaw Pact forces. Nor should we forget the Hitler Stalin Pact, which agreed the division of Poland between the two criminal dictatorships and the enslavement of the Baltic States within the Soviet Union. This brought about the wholesale deportation of hundreds of thousands of civilian men, women and children to the gulags of Siberia. These Baltic populations were replaced by the forced migration of Soviet citizens to man Stalin's newly imposed heavy industrial complexes and the Red Army military installations which were only dismantled in 1991.

Suffice it to say Britain's membership of the European Union gives us the opportunity to promote our interests in a peaceful settlement to the current turmoil in the Middle East and in the Russian Federation's neighbouring countries. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq, in Georgia 2008, in Crimea 2014 and now in Eastern Ukraine are a constant reminder that increasingly the EU must concert its diplomatic and defence capabilities if we are to be effective. Isolated Britain could do nothing to influence world events. As a leading member of the EU we have the ability to exert significant and lasting impact.

To sum it up, in deciding the outcome of the Referendum the British pro European case should clearly demonstrate how vital to our future economic success our active full membership is. Withdrawal would not only imperil our economic prospects but fatally undermine our defence and security capabilities. This crucial point is one our American allies have repeatedly drawn our attention to.

Christopher Beazley served as a Member of the European Parliament from 1984-1994 and 1999-2009.