And especially today my many readers throughout Europe,
I have long been an admirer of Timothy Garton-Ash ever since I was introduced to his work by German friends some years ago. I think that his reflection on the relationship between the European Union and Great Britain is both correct and timely.
I think that the European Union has a choice to make, as does Britain. Will it choose to be merely a bureaucratic arrangement in which the members of the club pay their bills, keep the rules regarding free movement of goods and services and of people, but apart from that are free to honour or to dishonour the rule of law or will it choose to be a truly democratic institution? I believe that in its original concept the European Union was a rejection of the politics of the past in which each European nation sought to further only its own interests, a politics that led ultimately to two world wars. It was also a rejection of the dictatorships of Europe both of the Right and of the Left. And if Europe wishes to remain true to that founding vision then it needs Britain to play a strong role. For all its faults Britain remains one of the strongest democracies in Europe if not the world.
And so I agree entirely with Timothy Garton-Ash in his headline when he says… My message to Europe: tell us you want Britain to stay
7 thoughts on “My message to Europe: tell us you want Britain to stay. An Plea From Timothy Garton-Ash.”
Is there truly any option for the UK to stay in the EU at this point?
Thank you for making a comment here. I appreciate it. I think that there are a few layers of response. One is a matter of potential action and that is that the European Court of Justice ruled last week that the British Government can unilaterally decide to reverse its decision to leave the EU at any time before the actual date for the divorce in March without needing any further agreement with other European governments. I think that is very important. A second practical consideration is that the majority of Parliament is against leaving the European Union and although it would not unilaterally decide to overule the referendum result (it could do so legally but it would be a disaster politically!) it could decide to ask the British people to take a second look at the decision to leave based upon a reflection on two years of negotiation. Personally I think that this second look should have been written into the original legislation for a referendum and then we would all have known where we stood all along. We knew so little back in 2016 compared to where we are now.
I think that it is becoming increasingly clear that the momentum in the debate is shifting towards a second vote. Sadly about one third of the governing Conservative party is totally against such a second vote and the party’s leadership is very afraid of a catastrophic split that might lead to a collapse of the party. But there is a second option. The government could put the question of a second vote to Parliament. I think that if they did that there would be sufficient support from across the different parties to pass the legislation. Whether they have the courage to do this and risk a permanent split in the Conservative party I do not know.
The other layer is that history moves much more slowly than the political cycle. I think that we are making decisions for the future of our children and grandchildren here. Back in 1946 Winston Churchill made a speech calling for the creation of a United States of Europe. At that point he saw it as both an essential ally to the United States of America against Soviet expansionism and as a bulwark of democracy. At that point he did not see Britain as a part of this project. He saw Britain and its empire as a third power bloc of the democratic world standing as a bridge between the USA and Europe. It is actually how British foreign policy has worked ever since. Britain lost the empire (quite rightly!) and joined the EU, but it has sought to remain that trans-Atlantic bridge. That is until the catastrophic decision to leave the EU. Now I do not believe that Britain has any strategic role left as a medium sized European power on the fringes of the continent.
That is why I agree so strongly with Timothy Garton-Ash. He has strong links across the continent and he is challenging his friends to use their influential to call upon Britain to stay in the EU. His argument is that it is not only Britain that faces a crisis but the whole of Europe too. Europe needs a strong Britain in order to stand up against a newly expansionist Russia and possibly China too. If Europe is perceived as strong then the temptation to expand into the EU and NATO will be reduced. If it is perceived as weak then I think that the temptation to return Europe to its Cold War identity with Iron Curtain borders will continue to grow.
That is why I agree so strongly with Garton-Ash that Europe needs Britain as well as Britain needing Europe.
Thank you for allowing me this foray into politics. I only do so because I think it is about the future of my daughters and their children. I think that it is one of those “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” moments.
A great deal to consider, thank you for your insight. It’s interesting that the British government could potentially reverse course on this. I was under the notion that there was no such “escape clause,” from the UK or from the EU. Of course, it’s seemingly just as easy to be just as misinformed these days about matters as it is to be informed. I don’t question the ideal of a strong EU in the wake of WWII. The concept of Brexit seemingly came out of nowhere from the American perspective, and I understand that not all of its supporters are simply xenophobic, so it makes for a complex situation at best. I feel like I’ve been trying to play catch-up since it was announced it was going to vote. Honestly, the number of Cold War era rollbacks is unsettling to me. I’m seeing the same things over here, as though everyone’s forgotten the lessons of history, and too many are afraid of a common future.
I have spoken to many people who voted to leave back in 2016 for many good reasons and many have changed their minds. Whatever happens in the next few months we have a job to do to reunite the country. I just think that reuniting the country is only part of the job. There is a continent to unite as well. For me it is not only memories of the Cold War (which I do remember well) but a fear of returning to the Europe of the 1930s.
That I can appreciate. It’s like that here in the States too. Everything’s so divisive, hardly any middle ground in any corner you look. It’s like the whole world is just itching for a fight or something.
It seems like that “itching for a fight” was how it was back in 1914.
It’s like we never learn.