Wherever you are in the world there’s a good chance that you’ll have noticed the current debate about the UK’s membership of the European Union, and that there will be a referendum on that question on June 23rd.
In the interests of full disclosure let me state that I am in favour of Britain remaining in the EU and that I have joined the ‘Stronger In’ campaign, to whom I have made a small donation (under £50.00). Moreover, I work with EU agencies, providing editorial and related services.
Before any Brexiters reading this head for the Brexit (and we’ll set aside the horrors of that particular neologism for now), let me suggest that there is something bigger at stake than the relative economic benefits or disbenefits of EU membership, important though they are.
One of the anti-EU narrative’s core messages concerns the perceived threat to national sovereignty from membership of a ‘supra-national’ body. Playing on people’s fears by playing up a loss of sovereignty is to bury a complex issue in nationalistic flag-waving. In the nineteenth century an obsession with national sovereignty and its link with race and religion led more or less directly to the atrocities of the early twentieth century.
Of course, modern Britain is a very different place – multi-cultural, relatively socially liberal and democratic. So it is disappointing that those who purport to promote values which reflect the nature of contemporary Britain fail to see the importance of supra-national institutions that were created specifically in contradistinction to the failed ideologies of fascism and Nazism in the 1950s and state socialism in the 1990s. I believe that supra-national bodies serve a valuable purpose in the evolving relations between regions and nations, relations that need at the very least to consider a post-nationalist concept of the links between people and territory. Think of the UN, like the EU a far from perfect organisation, but another that is preferable to the likely consequences of unpicking efforts to bring nations, regions, and peoples together for the good of all.
Without supra-national and regional initiatives, the prospects for future generations will be damaged by the kinds of conflicts that previous generations fought to (and thought they had) overcome. The EU needs solidarity among its members at a time of considerable stresses and strains, and the social and economic benefits to all from standing together will outweigh the benefits of striking out alone. Of course, we must continue to ensure that institutions and policies are appropriately developed and held accountable.
Because, regrettably, you don’t have to look far beyond the mainstream of Brexit support to find extremists who dress their hate in smart suits and flags. Better by far to remain and work to improve the ‘supra’ than to quit and face the ascendancy of the nuts.