As I continue to participate in many EU referendum debates, I have a strong feeling that the ‘remain’ campaign is winning the argument regarding the economy. All credible studies and facts lead you to that conclusion. The ‘leave’ campaigners’ arguments on the same are definitely lacking credibility and certainty.
The arguments around sovereignty on the other hand, seem less clear. If we are outside the EU, Brexiteers argue with conviction, we will be able to make our own decisions, free from the interference of Brussels. It is a very simplistic and seductive argument, especially as most of us aren’t political theorists, and when we hear the word sovereignty, we automatically think ‘independence’, which is a good thing, right?
However, as I have thought about this more and tried to find a simple way to respond, I have started to think about how this relates to our own lives. We all like the concept of being independent and free to do as we please, but we also rely on each other to make our communities work. We are interdependent.
This ‘independence vs. interdependence’ dichotomy has been central to the EU argument since even before we joined. And while the idea of ‘taking control’ is a good slogan, I actually think that interdependence is one of the strongest arguments for staying in, because we can see how we can apply this to our own lives.
Before coming to the UK, for example, my family lived in a large block of flats in Germany. There were about 50 families in close proximity, sharing playgrounds, washing facilities, parking etc. Now it’s obvious that this kind of community requires rules, some formal, some informal, to get along, and I vividly remember that there was one family who refused to stick to the rules and were deeply unpopular, including their children, who became ‘outsiders’ when it came to activities in the playground. This is definitely not an argument for teutonic conformity, but even at the age of seven, I had a basic sense that people need to work together to make friends and to be an ‘insider’.
I also quickly learnt very early on in my business life at Siemens, where we have plenty of necessary and sometimes some not so smart rules, that the only way to change the latter with success, is to work yourself into a position to change them from within and for the good of the entire corporation.
Now, take these arguments and expand them to macro-level. No country is truly independent or sovereign. We in Britain are interdependent, with our European neighbours in particular, when it comes to dealing with 21st century challenges, like pollution, cross-border crime, financial instability and terrorism. Therefore, we voluntarily give up some sovereignty, pooling it with others in the EU, because together we are stronger on those issues.
It’s true that sometimes we are not happy with the rules, and indeed that they are not smart, but here too, I think we can learn from our personal experiences, where it is mostly much better to work to change the rules from within, than being ignored on the outside. And contrary to popular opinion, the UK isn’t always on the losing side in the EU. I speak to European colleagues and people in Brussels regularly and they tell me how important, and how much success, the UK has in making the case for free trade, reducing regulation, tackling climate change and much more. I’m therefore quite astonished by the lack of confidence in the UK to believe that we can’t be an even stronger leader in the EU, changing and improving the system from within. Because we most definitely can!
And what happens if we do run away and try to set just our own rules? Well, it’s simple, we actually lose sovereignty. Europe is not going away and we can’t tow ourselves into the middle of the Atlantic and try to cut ourselves off from trade and political and economic system on our doorstep. We would simply have less control over the pollution drifting over our borders; the cleanliness of our seas; the standards of financial regulation affecting our economy; the consumer and trade regulations to which our exporters and importers are bound in or out of the union; the security and economic crises sending shock waves – such as extreme migration and terrorism – deep into domestic life. We would end up being on the outside looking in, while others make decisions which affect us. That doesn’t feel very much like sovereignty to me.
And who is it, that would lose out if we do decide to run away and try to become more sovereign? It will not be the Brexiteers. It will be our next generation, just like it was the children of the family living by its own rules that I described at the beginning of this blog. The parents had made their choice to make their own rules and to live largely in isolation. But their children had not chosen to be excluded from play and lots of great experiences.
In the same way, let’s not allow self interest and isolation ruin the opportunities for generations to come. Instead, allow them to be part of a proud outward looking Britain that is helping drive equality and better chances for all in the EU. That is the Great Britain that I have adopted as my home 40 years ago and I’d like our future generation to have the same chances Britain has provided for me.