Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bhikhu Parekh makes brilliant speech in favour of the UK remaining in the EU

The speech is found here and delivered in the House of Lords - the full text:
 
"My Lords, I have been in this country for more than 50 years and I cannot recall an equivalent occasion when it was likely to take such a momentous decision as to whether we should remain in or leave the European Union, on the basis of a rather shallow and polarised debate conducted in a mood of panic created or exploited by a motley crowd of politicians who are prepared to change their convictions as often as they change their underwear. I want to argue as forcefully as I can why it would be unwise of us to leave the European Union; or rather, more positively, why it is crucial that we stay.
 
First, as several speakers have pointed out, there is no clear alternative. There is all this brave talk about our being able to do this, that or the other, negotiating like Canada or Norway, but it is all based on fantasies. The European Union will not view us as kindly, and therefore will be less disposed to accommodate us. Other countries will not be able to deal with us because they have been dealing with us on the basis of our membership of the European Union and, once that is taken away, the assumption based on the fact that they will continue to co-operate with us does not hold. I therefore think that it would be absolutely mad to move in a direction about which we know so little rather than build on what we have achieved so far. The Prime Minister has brought back a settlement. In 2017 we have the unique opportunity to be president. There are all these possibilities whereby we can use our good offices to set our own agenda and take the European Union in the direction we want to take it.
 
The second reason that we ought to stay in the European Union has to do with the idea of sovereignty. We are constantly told that we should take back control over our affairs. Well, we already have control over our affairs, because our MEPs sit there and our commissioners take decisions. Getting out does not give us any greater control, because the forces we deal with are global and they require a global response. Sovereignty is ultimately about power and power is not gained in isolation, because isolation is impotence. Power is gained when we share with others in jointly collaborating and organising our affairs. The choice is therefore between insisting on being sovereign, going it alone and becoming impotent or being part of a larger unit and working together with it.
 
The third reason I think membership of the European Union is crucial to us has to do with the fact that Europe has been a constant point of reference and has provided standards of comparison. In all matters having to do with social and other affairs—for example, survival rates for patients after cancer, unmarried mothers, teenage pregnancies—there are comparative figures for other European countries and for our own. These hurt us when they show that we are not doing as well as other countries, because all European countries, more or less, are at the same stage of development. These comparisons inspire us, they shame us, they make us proud when we do better and they lead to important changes.
 
It is also very striking that membership of the European Union has been a force for great good for us. I can remember those occasions when people had to take matters to the European Court. In matters having to do with human rights, equal pay, paid holidays, maternity and paternity leave and health and safety standards, Europe has been a champion of social democracy and has helped us maintain a certain standard of decency in our country which otherwise might not have obtained.
 
My fourth reason has to do with the fact that our membership of the European Union has helped us create a stable and peaceful Europe. This is partly because of our great role in the Second World War and the policies we have followed since. If we leave, there are two possibilities. Either other countries may try to emulate us and the European Union may break up into a conglomeration of small nation states, or the process of unification may go further, resulting in a continental state. A powerful continental state can never be in our interest. It is striking that our foreign policy has always been based on a balance of power in Europe.
 
The other reason this is important has to do with the fact that nation states are becoming ever less important. All countries are forming alliances and it is only those countries that are part of stable alliances which are able to make an impact. The United States matters not just because it is large and independent but because it is able to work through international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank or its control over Latin America. Likewise, China matters because it has all manner of alliances with neighbouring countries. The EU is another example. Through it we are able to shape the global agenda. Outside it, we would not have any of the influence we currently have.
 
I readily agree that the EU has its economic and political problems, but these can be tackled by remaining within the EU. The Prime Minister’s proposal as to the kinds of changes he has been able to secure tells us how those changes can be brought about, and I therefore suggest that we should not only stay within the EU but show a greater degree of commitment and enthusiasm than we have done so far, rather than appearing to be sulky and constantly threatening to go home with our marbles if we do not get our way. That is not the way a great nation should behave."

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