Many Eurosceptics have a somewhat relaxed attitude towards the facts. Which probably explains why they were not happy with the way the government’s review of the balance of competences between the UK and the European Union has been conducted so far.
Revelations by Philip Stephens of the Financial Times that some Conservative Eurosceptic ministers complained that the reports were ‘even-handed’, with people close to one of them protesting against the fact they were ‘unduly weighted towards the evidence’, made for some very interesting reading.
They reveal a willingness on behalf of Eurosceptics to ignore the facts in their effort to advance their dogmatic beliefs. Which makes sense considering that for far too long the Eurosceptic narrative has been built on assertions that are light on evidence but heavy on emotion.
The reports on the single market, tax policy, foreign policy and defence, food safety and animal welfare, health and development were based on evidence gathered by a variety of domestic and international, business and governmental submissions and revealed that, overall, EU membership is good for Britain and, despite what the tabloid press and Eurosceptics will have you think, it is not a drain on Britain’s sovereignty.
What made for really interesting reading were submissions from some of Britain’s most important international partners.
The Australian government, for example, argued that ‘The UK attracts strong Australian investment partly due to our long-term links but also because of the UK’s position in the EU market’. It added that ‘Australia’s strong links with the UK allow Australian businesses to use the UK as a platform for trade and investment in the broader EU market’.
This is probably the strongest statement from a Commonwealth country on the importance of Britain’s membership of the EU and flies straight at the face of those who argue that Britain should leave the EU to be able to trade freely with the Commonwealth.
The Japanese government was even more prescriptive, and added figures to its arguments. According to its submission ‘More than 1,300 Japanese companies have invested in the UK, as part of the single market of the EU, and have created 130,000 jobs, more than anywhere else in Europe. This fact demonstrates that the advantage of the UK as a gateway to the European market has attracted Japanese investment. The government of Japan expects the UK to maintain this favourable role.’
In a world where capital and investors are mobile this is a resounding warning that if the UK was to leave the EU, many (if not all) of those Japanese companies would move to a European country that is part of the single market, taking thousands of jobs with them.
Such statements come to add to what the US has repeatedly said over the past year. Philip Gordon, the US assistant secretary responsible for European affairs at the state department, said in early January that: ‘We have a growing relationship with the European Union as an institution which has a growing voice in the world – and we want to see a strong British voice in that European Union. That is in the American interest.’
If that was not enough, Barack Obama weighed in on the debate. A statement by the White House, issued after David Cameron’s speech in January, revealed that Obama had spoken with Cameron about the importance of Britain’s membership of the EU. The statement said that ‘The president underscored our close alliance with the United Kingdom and said that the United States values a strong UK in a strong European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity, and security in Europe and around the world.’
The importance of such public statements cannot be understated. At the core of Eurosceptics’ argumentation is the emotional claim that Britain’s ability to exert influence at the global level and trade with the rest of the world is hampered by its membership of the EU. Such views become redundant, when one after the other, Britain’s major international partners come forward to argue that Britain’s place on the world stage and its ability to trade and attract investment is enhanced by its membership of the EU.
The government’s balance of competences review will not win (or lose) the argument on Britain’s membership of the EU. The evidence that has emerged is important, especially in a debate where the facts are often ignored. It is up to all those that are in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU to use these facts to build a narrative that will appeal to the minds of the British people.
But facts will not be enough. Winning over minds will only take us half of the way. We need to appeal to the hearts as well as the minds of people. The British consider themselves a confident, open, entrepreneurial, trading nation, in conversation with the world and in constant pursuit of a better place in it.
What lies at the centre of the American, Japanese and Australian governments’ message is the notion of a confident Britain, a gateway at the heart of a strong EU, able to attract investment and talent from around the world and use it for its own development, free of isolationist tendencies and xenophobic insecurities. This notion includes the building blocks of the emotional message that must be delivered alongside the facts, if we are to appeal to people’s ideological perception of themselves and explain how being part of the EU is the clearest manifestation of what the British nation stands for.
Petros Fassoulas is chair of the European Movement UK
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