“Britain needs Europe, and Europe needs Britain” – Full text of David Miliband’s pro-EU speech

12th April, 2016 3:14 pm

This is the full text of David Miliband’s speech in favour of staying in the European Union today.

David Miliband EU

It seems appropriate to be at Church House today. This building is of course home to the Church of England.  But it was requisitioned by Winston Churchill for the UK Parliament during the Second World War.  And in January 1946 it hosted the first ever meeting of the UN Security Council.  So the question of Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world, which goes to the heart of my speech today, runs through the rooms and halls here.

I need to make one important point at the outset, which is that I am speaking today in a personal capacity, not for the International Rescue Committee, which like other charities does not take sides in the referendum debate.

That frees me to speak with passion and patriotism for Britain to stay in Europe, because those qualities do not belong on one side of this argument.  The character of our country, our place in the world, as well as our material wealth, are on the ballot paper, and those of us arguing for Britain to remain in the EU must not cede passion or patriotism to the other side.

It is understandable that a lot of the argument so far has focused on economics. There should be a lot more.  I thought the recent study by PWC for the CBI, showing the economic costs of quitting Europe, was devastating.

There has also been a lot of the debate on borders, migration and refugees.  But Britain is not part of the European asylum policy, and international humanitarian law on refugees is not governed by Brussels. It is a delusion to believe that the EU is forcing refugees down British throats, and deeply misleading to argue that withdrawal will keep them out.  Even in respect of economic migrants, withdrawal from the EU to Norwegian status, or other types of relationship with the EU like that of Switzerland, does not mean an end to the free movement of labour from the continent to Britain, because there will be no deal on offer if we vote to leave that gives reasonable access to the single market without free movement.

There will be other occasions to make the necessary progressive case for our European membership, for its essential contribution to social justice and environmental sustainability.  But today I would like to focus not on the strength of Britain’s economy, or the strength of our borders, but our strength in the world, and the strength of the institutions that make the world more secure, more prosperous, more stable and more sustainable, not just for us but for the rest of humanity as well.

The stakes in this debate could not be higher for a very simple reason: the EU referendum in Britain is taking place at a time of major international ferment and challenge. 

I see this every day in my work.  A period of remarkable international peace when it comes to conflict between nations is marked by unprecedented flight of people as a result of conflict within nations.  But it is not only in the humanitarian sphere that there is ferment and challenge.

We are living through an unprecedented challenge to the institutions, norms and values that have advanced human security, prosperity and dignity over the last two generations.  These institutions, including the EU, are far from perfect and need reform, but they uphold the idea of an international order based on cooperation according to clear rules.  As such they are vital to security and prosperity.  Yet they are being tested to the limit.

  • The challenge is about security.  Jihadism is a threat to life and limb from Belgium to Nigeria to the Middle East and South Asia.
  • It is also about governance. There is a mismatch between the ever increasing demand for accountability in the exercise of power and the stalled march of democratic governance at national and international level.
  • It is about law.  International humanitarian law that protects civilians (and aid workers) in war time is being flouted more regularly today than at any time since the Second World War.
  • And it is about institutions. Imbalances in the global economy – creditors v debtors, rich v poor – run way beyond the capacity of the global economic institutions to manage them.
  • It is also about power, because Russia sees itself as a pole of attraction for all those frustrated by the mis-steps of liberal capitalism.  Meanwhile China hedges its bets.
  • That is to say nothing of Donald Trump arguing for the end of Nato and Mrs Le Pen arguing for the break up of the EU.

So the global commons – the physical, legal, environmental, even moral space which we hold in common – is under threat as never before…at a time when the need for global cooperation is greater than ever before.  The rising powers in China and elsewhere are not ready to take on global leadership, and the traditional powers, whether led from the right, left or center, are not willing or sometimes able to exercise their traditional role. The result is instability and uncertainty.

So the “British question”, the question of Britain’s place in Europe, is not only one of what we “get” out of Europe.  It is also a question of whether we want to shore up the international order, or contribute to its dilution and perhaps even destruction.

My answer to that question is quite simple:

  • First, Britain has a very strong stake in the strengthening of the global order.  As a trading nation, as a strategic power, we have helped build that global order and profit from its maintenance.
  • Second, Britain is powerful in Europe.  I will explain how, and how much less powerful we would be outside.
  • Third, the European Union is vital to the stability of the global order, and in the next twenty five years the world is going to need the EU to become more effective in the way it works.
  • Fourth, it is said that the world is increasingly divided between firefighters and arsonists.  For centuries, Britain has been a firefighter.  We have always sought to balance great powers and check the abuse of power.  There is no shortage of fires that need to be put out around the world at the moment.  This is no time for Britain to join the ranks of arsonists, and there should be no doubt that Brexit would be an act of arson on the international order.

As Foreign Secretary, I saw Britain’s interaction with the rest of the world close up through a British prism. Now I can see Britain through an international lens. Distance lends perspective, and that is what I want to offer today.

The starting point is this: Britain does much more in the world and for the world than our modest size would suggest.

In New York the advertising about our country says, in a rather un-British way, ‘Britain is Great’. We may only have one per cent of the world’s population and four per cent of global GDP. Yet, without bombast or extremism or Empire, we produce amazing science, business, arts and sports. We have 16 of the world’s top 100 universities. We have a leading role in international development. We honor and cherish our past, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, whilst moving with the future, from gay rights to pioneering science in DNA and stem-cell research.

We welcome people to work and study in Britain, making us richer both as an economy and as a society, and we provide news and entertainment to billions around the world who tune into the BBC and the Premier League. London is now the world’s number-one travel destination.

Britain has achieved these things as part of and in part because of the European Union. Britain’s economy is now roughly twice the size it was in 1973. London is now headquarters to around 40 per cent of the world’s top firms.  Some 60 per cent of top non-European global companies have London as their European base.  This happened with the spur of our EU membership.

Those arguing for a no vote in the 1975 referendum said Britain would become poorer; but that turns out to have been nonsense.  As nonsensical as the argument today that quitting Europe would make us richer.

The argument of this speech is that our influence as well as our wealth has been boosted European membership.

The UK has consistently stood up for international law, human rights, environmental justice, peace and security through a range of bilateral and multilateral partnerships and alliances. At our best, we lead in defending the values, building the structures, and defining the substance of international cooperation – all of which are boosted by our EU membership. That is true from the enlargement of the EU itself, which was one of the most signal acts of peace-building in the 20th century, to the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

We are able to play this role not because of our history and traditions, but because we have made a basic national choice, over successive decades and across successive governments, to become an outward-looking, internationally-minded country that is committed to a rules-based international order.

We have been firefighters not arsonists for a very simple reason: we are not an Empire, have learnt the costs of isolation, and know the importance of playing by the rules.

I would argue history plays a diminishing part in Britain’s standing: a growing part relies and will increasingly rely on our being unafraid to grapple with the problems, and seize the opportunities, of today’s interdependent and interconnected world, through diplomacy, development policy, commerce, intelligence, security and defence.

Our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, for example, has its roots in post-war history.  But its current status, and its future, depends not on history but on delivery and contribution.  We cannot claim our seat because of our size.  We can claim it because of our contribution to global order.

At the heart of our British success story in the post-war period – not just as a fringe component or some add-on extra – has been our membership of the European Union.  Europe is not an alternative to a global Britain; it is the foundation for our role and reach internationally, which is good for us, and I would argue good for stability and security around the world.

The very same outward-looking attitude that took us into Europe, and has kept us in Europe, is the attitude that makes us credible and influential in the wider world. Rather than limit or diminish us, the European Union multiplies British power, British ideas and British values in very direct ways.

  • The EU multiplies British defence policy. We could never tackle Somali pirates, who were holding the coast of Africa to ransom, on our own. As part of the EU, we despatched a highly successful naval force to do just that – the Atalanta force led by the Royal Navy. In 2011, there were 176 attacks; last year, none.
  • Europe multiplies British diplomacy.  We sought, on a cross-party basis, across successive governments, a negotiated resolution to the Iranian nuclear program through the EU, which was ahead of the US on this issue, and which convened and drove forward the process to achieve that hugely important goal. When I went to argue in Beijing for Chinese support for sanctions that would help support a negotiated settlement, progress was achieved in part because of the united European position I was able to put forward.
  • Europe multiplies support for British values.  We saw the consequences of break-up in the Balkans in the 1990s before the EU had a common foreign policy. It is thanks to the EU’s diplomatic pressure and economic pull that there is now relative peace and stability in the Balkans, despite the refugee crisis. An independent Kosovo, stable Serbia, growing Croatia exist because of agreed EU foreign policy. This is an area where the EU has thrown its weight around, and to good effect.
  • Europe multiplies our development policy.  We know the UK overseas aid budget has gone up – but with a British contribution, the EU’s humanitarian aid budget is the largest in the world, and together we are pioneers in good practice. Britain’s membership of the EU has been good for EU humanitarian aid policy, and in the process good for millions of people helped around the world because of the Union’s clout and commitment in this field.
  • Europe massively multiplies our environmental clout.  The UK cares about climate change, but we can hardly tackle it alone. Our EU membership has allowed us to drive and deliver a cross-party UK priority on a European scale, and now a global scale.

Let’s deal with one other issue.  Europe multiplies British security, and more security needs more coordination.  The Brussels attacks show the need for more intelligence sharing, more joint policy work, more common endeavor.  British people can be killed anywhere in the world, and it is vital that our policy and intelligence services are plugged into the rest of Europe to keep our people safe when they are abroad not just when they are at home.

Where Europe has been weak, and failed to multiply British interests, for example in its dealings with Russia, it is not because Europe has been too united in its policy, but too divided. The answer to a revanchist Russia seeking to flex its muscles around the world is not a weaker EU, but a stronger one.

So Europe multiplies British power, rather than diminishing or constraining it.

You don’t have to take my word for it. President Obama could not have been clearer on this issue. He says: British membership “gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union” and that America “values a strong UK in a strong European Union”. Hillary Clinton says the same thing. So does Senator John McCain: “British membership in the EU is a vital contributor to the security and prosperity of Europe and the United States”.

President Xi said on his state visit a few months ago that he wanted Britain “as an important member of the EU”, to “play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties”. Do we seriously think the Chinese have invested $17 billion in the UK, more than in any other European country, simply to go offshore from an economy (the EU) that is still larger than their own?

One of the few international voices we have not heard calling for the UK to stay in the EU is that of Vladimir Putin.  Are we surprised?  Russia would be very happy to watch us detach ourselves from the European mainstream. Why? Because a fracturing Europe and divided West, with Britain on its own, would make it much easier for President Putin to pursue Russia’s agenda abroad.
Simply stated, withdrawal from the EU would mean less power for Britain, not more; less influence, not more; less security, not more.
If we want our interests and values to matter in the modern world, the cold facts of life require Britain to be in Europe.

David Cameron is therefore right to argue that “there is a strong patriotic case for staying in” the European Union, because “our country does best in the world when we are open to the world, not when we are trying to pull up the drawbridge”. I am delighted he is now making the case so clearly.  My only wish is that he had started making that strong patriotic case for Britain in Europe six years ago, when he entered Number Ten – rather than flirt with the possibility of leaving and trying for too long to appease those who can never be satisfied until we choose isolation.

Quitting Europe means giving up on our alliances; forsaking our position at the negotiating table; abandoning our international responsibilities; and risks setting off a domino effect that strengthens our enemies and undermines our allies.

My message is simple: Now is not the time for unilateral political disarmament.

Think about it.  Unilateral political disarmament.  No nation in human peacetime history, never mind Britain, has voluntarily given up as much political power as we are being invited to throw away on June 23rd.

The power to help set rules for the world’s largest single market, rather than accept the rules being set for us with us having no say over them; the power to help decide on the deployment of the largest humanitarian budget in the world; the power to help shape the negotiation of global trade deals; the power to help deploy political resources of 28 countries.

All thrown away in a vote to leave. For what?  For a cold, hard lesson in the demon of hubris, born of delusion that the world owes us a break. A tragic miscalculation which weakens ourselves, our friends and the international order on which we depend.

This is not Project Fear. Rather, it is quitting Europe which is Project Fantasy.

Unilateral political disarmament is not a joke or a jape.  It is a recipe for instability not order, derision not applause, a fall not pride.

The sceptics say that in Europe we lose sovereignty and national control. But that is like saying that when you decide to join a club, you give away power over the rules. No: you get the power to help decide the rules for a larger group.

The central argument of the Leave campaign is that quitting Europe gives us back control.  But that is especially wrong-headed in respect of foreign policy, where every country has a veto. In this field, there is no loss of sovereignty. The benefits of cooperation are all upside. And in other areas, where majority voting applies, we share some sovereignty to get a say on bigger issues – like environmental standards or a single market – that in very many areas we can no longer control on our own.

The campaigners for separation say that none of the advantages of membership matter, because adequate trade deals and security arrangements will be forthcoming outside the EU. I say this is Project Fantasy.

The Eurosceptics try to create and sustain a myth that the EU, NATO, the UN, the WTO, the Commonwealth – and indeed all the other frameworks we rely on – operate in totally separate spheres. They want us to believe that we can simply pick and choose between them – and that bilateral relationships can replace the EU wherever necessary.

What the UK’s former UN Permanent Representative David Hannay has called this “attempt to fit Britain’s external relationships into tight little boxes” ignores the reality of interdependence and it misunderstands our partners, who are heavily invested in these structures. As Hannay puts it: if they think (rightly) that “we have acted in a way which damages organisations that they themselves value highly … they will be unlikely to be sympathetic or to promote bilateral relationships in the teeth of such considerations”.

Quitting Europe would require Britain to negotiate over 100 international trade and investment agreements which we have helped to construct and from which we currently benefit.  But these agreements are more important to us than we are to our partners in them.  So why should anyone give us higher priority or a better deal than now, just because we have left the EU, in the face of their advice?

The US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, could not have been more direct in reminding us of the facts of life: “I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table [by] being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity”. He went on: “We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs [free-trade agreements] with individual countries. We’re building platforms … that other countries can join over time”. Then the killer blow: “We have no FTA with the UK, so they would be subject to the same tariffs – and other trade-related measures – as China, or Brazil or India”.

The Prime Minister of one of the smaller EU states, and current Head of the Commonwealth, Malta, says the exit process would be “ugly, painful and costly”.  And that is just Malta speaking.   The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has the same message: ‘We would have years of the most difficult negotiations…And for years, we would have such insecurity that would be a poison to the economy in the UK, the European continent and for the global economy as well’.

My point is that this is not just bad for Britain.  It is very bad for the international order, and the aspirations for that order, on which we depend.

There has been some discussion of how leaving Europe would create a splintering effect in the UK, sponsoring Scottish separatism just when the collapse of the oil price has sundered the argument for it.  But it also threatens a domino effect around the world, at just the time we need stronger international coordination not less.

Think of the big questions that need to be tackled: whether global capitalism has more bust than boom; whether western values can be sustained in the face of global pressures; whether the climate crisis is past resolution; whether public services can survive the flight of capital from western tax authorities.

All of them need more effective international coordination that is regional as well as global.

Like it or not, the world is more interdependent than ever.  So cooperation across national boundaries is more necessary than ever.  Global governance is not coming any time soon, so around the world regional blocs are going to become stronger not weaker, more important not less – from the Pacific Alliance to ASEAN to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

And just ask yourself: who will be celebrating the morning after the referendum, if Britain votes to leave? Not Angela Merkel, Barack Obama or the leaders of Japan, China, India, South Africa, Australia or Canada. They will be furious.

No, alongside Boris Johnson it will be Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and perhaps Donald Trump.

So if you want to strengthen Putin, vote to leave.
If you want to weaken the West, vote to leave.
If you want to make it harder to deliver effective aid to the poor, or curb global emissions, or crack down on rogue actors, vote to leave.

But if you want to strengthen Britain, vote to remain.
If you want to strengthen the forces for stability and security in the world, vote to remain.
If you want to support British values of social justice and environmental responsibility, vote to remain.

If you want arson on the international order, vote to leave, but if you want Britain to remain with the firefighters, vote to remain.

The choice is yours. And you’re entitled to your own opinion.  But as the great US Senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts”.

And the fact is that Britain needs Europe, and Europe needs Britain.  That is the patriotic case for us to not just to remain in the EU, but to develop a positive vision for European cooperation for the 21st century. That is the real task not just in the run-up to June 23rd, but thereafter as well.

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