Gordon Brown has warned that those in favour of the UK’s membership of the European Union are running the risk of losing an referendum on the issue. In an article for this morning’s Guardian, he writes that Eurosceptics are using the same tactics of the pro-independence campaign in the Scottish referendum, which was closer than many predicted.
The former Prime Minister writes:
“A poll that started off as a contest between two patriotic visions of Scotland’s future – one inside Britain one outside – descended into a choice: are you for Scotland or against Scotland? Thousands were persuaded that a yes vote was the only way to show themselves to be patriotic Scots.
“Anti-Europeans are slowly, and with surprisingly little public acknowledgment, pulling off the same trick by framing Europe – the subject of what could be the next referendum – in the same way. What should be a choice between two patriotic futures for Britain – one as part of Europe and one outside it – is already descending into a more basic emotional choice: are you for Britain, or are you for Europe?”
It is interesting that the premise of Brown’s piece seems to be an acceptance that an EU referendum is, if not inevitable, then at least likely. This would be at odds with Labour policy, as the party is heading into the election with a firm opposition to a referendum.
Brown says that if left untackled, UKIP will engender widespread feeling that “blames foreigners, targets immigrants, engenders a siege mentality against the outsider and says that Britain is barely recognisable to those who believe in it.”
He is not the first major Labour figure to lend his support and advice to the pro-EU cause; Better Together chair Alistair Darling said on announcing his retirement from the Commons that he wanted to be more active campaigning for EU membership, while Alan Johnson is understood to share similar sentiments from inside Parliament.
Brown, who is standing down from Parliament this May, argues that there is a danger of “fighting with the wrong weapons” and that a “fact-based campaign” could alienate those who already feel left behind by politics:
“Sadly we pro-Europeans are in danger of fighting with the wrong weapons: a worthy, London establishment-led corporate-financed fact-based campaign of “the great and the good”, whose commitment to Europe is admirable but whose prominence will be used by anti-Europeans to justify the allegation that Europe is for an elite who don’t understand the real Britain.”
While all of this is an intriguing intervention from the former Chancellor, it has been largely overshadowed by his belief that Britain leaving the EU would make the country like North Korea, “out in the cold with few friends, no influence, little new trade and even less new investment”.