The following is an article by a member of COPOV. It is a personal one and does not necessarily reflect the views of other COPOV members or of its Management Committee:
It is looking increasingly likely that within the next six months the general public will again be asked to make a decision on whether to remain in the European Union as it is now constituted. So much has changed in the last forty years when the previous referendum was held. The admission of those former communist countries in Eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall , economic and monetary union with the euro as a single currency, the vast migration into Europe from many states in the Near East, the rise of terrorism and most notably the threat posed by ISIS. These are enormous changes posing great problems for the leaders of the free world. Is it possible I ask myself for the United Kingdom to adopt a policy of seemingly ‘splendid isolation’ in such a situation?
Let us not kid ourselves. Referendums are alien to the British Constitution and should be used only sparingly. Unfortunately they tend to be used for party political purposes in an attempt to patch up differences within those parties. Most of you reading this article will remember that in 1975 the so called renegotiation undertaken by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his then Foreign Secretary James Callaghan when put to the Cabinet had seven dissenting ministers who were given a licence to campaign for withdrawal. Twenty or so years later and after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, John Major’s government was rent asunder by differences over Europe. These differences have never been resolved and our party in government again now has to finally face up to the fact that we are split down the middle with those wishing to secede probably having a very slight majority. The referendums concerning devolution in the late nineteen nineties (confined incidentally to only Scotland and Wales) and the September 2014 referendum in Scotland only confirm the dangers of using such a device and should have been a warning. In the nineteen eighties the Labour party holding a large number of seats in Scotland fanned the flames of discontent by accusing the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of having no mandate in Scotland when the Unionists were in a minority in Scotland and were relying on English Members of Parliament to get Scottish business through. And Margaret Thatcher, stubborn as she sometimes was ,only added fuel to the flames by insisting that the ‘community charge’ (poll tax) be introduced in Scotland first as a trial run for the rest of the country. Secondly the Labour Party accustomed as it was to large majorities in some very safe seats could never conceive of the possibility of ever losing its Scottish fiefdom which it had ruled ever since the mid sixties. The continued advance of Scottish Nationalism since 1998 and the astonishing and unprecedented 2015 General Election results have shown how false that assumption by the Labour party has been. A second referendum on Scottish independence is being mooted in some quarters in the hope of reversing the 2014 decision. And, if by a quirk of fate, in the forthcoming European referendum Scotland votes to stay in and the rest of the United Kingdom votes to come out then we will have a constitutional crisis par excellence. This, of course, may not happen but there is going to be bitterness whichever side wins and the wounds so inflicted will take a long time to heal.
UKIP’s appeal has crossed the party divide appealing to those elements in the Conservative Party who believe in ‘England, my England’ a nostalgic look back at times long gone and to the old working class Labour voter in the South Wales valleys and in the mill and steel towns of North and North East England who feel that the Labour party they once supported no longer understands them run as it is by a rich and powerful elite based in London whose roots in the Labour party are as one person said of Tony Blair ‘like a stick of celery’. But those supporting UKIP are no visionaries and seem to the writer to be hankering after a better yesterday.
The forthcoming Presidential Election in the United States of America is also affecting the way the writer intends to vote. It seems that the leading USA Presidential contenders in both the Democrat and Republican Parties are likely to be an extreme Liberal and an extreme Conservative with Hillary Clinton for the Democrats having the edge. In some quarters it is rumoured that the United States could conceivably pull its 100,000 troops out of Europe and were this to happen some sort of common European defence policy would have to be thrashed out. The so called special relationship between the United Kingdom and the USA has on times been under severe strain notably when Harold Wilson as Prime Minister refused quite rightly not to agree to Lyndon Johnson’s request for British troops in Vietnam, Edward Heath, his Common Market negotiations successfully concluded held Richard Nixon in distain, Harold Macmillan was left to repair relations with Dwight Eisenhower after the Suez debacle although judging from the telephone conversations now available over the internet concerning the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962 John Kennedy whose eldest sister had married in Macmillan’s in laws kept the then Prime Minister fully informed about the developing situation.
Ronald Reagan’s love in with Margaret Thatcher (or was it the other way round?) lasted for eight years although relations there were sometimes strained. I remember at one Bournemouth conference in the early 2000’s Sir Malcolm Rifkind relating the story of how Reagan was taking a phone call from Margaret Thatcher and after a harangue of about ten minutes he put his hand over the telephone and turning to one of his aides and whispered ‘Gee! Isn’t she wonderful?’ Tony Blair’s closeness to George W. Bush at the time of the Iraq War probably was not good for either man’s reputation. Even the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his disagreements with Winston Churchill particularly over how to deal with Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin. And while accepting Margaret Thatcher’s view that Europe was the cause of two World Wars in the twentieth century it has to be remembered that Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in the late nineteen twenties and the early nineteen thirties only came about because he was able ruthlessly to exploit the harsh penalties financial and otherwise which had been imposed, largely at France’s instigation, on the German population via the Versailles Treaty in 1919. The USA itself is changing, the white population is shrinking, and there are more and more Latinos and other races taking up residence there. The United Kingdom never has been and never will be the fifty first state of the USA. We are tied not only by geography but by our history to Europe. That fact cannot be denied. Within ten years people will be asking ‘What was so special about our relationship with the USA?’
Many of our biggest companies when not owned by other European companies have important trade links there. You can get on an aeroplane from Heathrow at 6 a.m. in the morning do business in maybe two European Capital cities such as Paris and Brussels and be back in London at 8 p.m. the same evening. The writer believes that our future lies in Europe and that we will not be forgiven by future generations if we were to leave.
The writer would be the first to concede that not everything is well in the European Union. Many of our previous Commissioners have been failed politicians from this country. The lavish salaries and perks showered upon Members of the European Parliament coupled with virtually no accountability stinks and just shows how out of touch many of the Members are. Others get well paid jobs there based not on ability but on whom they know. The European Union’s complete failure to come up with a solution to the continuing refugee crisis that is fair and acceptable to all countries has only fanned the flames of discontent and resentment. Surely playing a prominent role in trying to solve the problem is better than no role at all. The writer has grave doubts whether we could in any case successfully implement border controls desirable though they might be.
The reader will by now have probably guessed that the writer will reluctantly vote ‘yes’ for remaining in. As Harold Macmillan once said: Better stay with nurse for fear of something worse. Or as USA President Johnson once said (though his language would have been classed as an ‘expletive deleted’): I would rather have him inside the tent looking out than outside the tent looking in!
Hopefully the debate in the coming months will be fair frank and open with both sides able to freely express their views. The result is very important and will decide the United Kingdom’s destiny for the next hundred years or so.
1 February 2016