Why do I want to remain in the EU? I could suggest a long list of boring, but pragmatic arguments. I could point out that a vast chunk of our trade goes to Europe free of tariffs. If we left, this would have to be torturously renegotiated over many years, and we’d have to comply with EU rules and regulations without any say in them, like Norway. Or, I could argue that our national security would be imperilled by quitting the EU, losing valuable counter-terrorism tools like the European Arrest Warrant. Or, I could suggest that cancelling our membership is unlikely to restore much sovereignty to our government anyway, given rapidly increasing globalisation and the continuing weakness of national borders.
All of that is enough to make me vote Remain on its own. But it’s not the real reason why I want to stay in.
My basic political instinct is to be communitarian, not individualistic. I fundamentally believe that more can be achieved by people working together, than alone. This is unquestionable at a local community level. It’s also seen in how the various nations of the UK benefit from helping each other. We can pool risks and rewards and share resources. The same is also true of Europe. Britain can be greater working with our neighbours than going off alone.
I’m no starry-eyed Euro-federalist, who dreams of a time when we can burn our passports and be ruled instead as a continental superstate from Brussels. If that was on offer, I would vote against it. The nation-state is not yet a relic of history and remains the best way of governing large bodies of people with shared language, culture, and history.
Yes, the EU is endlessly bureaucratic. Yes, it needs to be more democratic and responsive to people’s needs. Yes, it should waste less money in handouts to vested interests. But it’s neither pointless nor outdated as Eurosceptics claim.
The Economist once wrote that the EU struggles to find its purpose today because it has so resoundingly achieved its original intent. It’s now inconceivable that the great European nations could once again go to war, as happened twice in a generation last century. But this is truly the best reason to remain in the EU.
Think of Europe’s eastern fringe; nations like Ukraine, trying to shed its Russian manacles, or the Balkan states, emerging from the shadow of ethnic cleansing. What do they see as the route to the prosperity and stability western Europe enjoys? The EU.
When your options are to live under the thumb of Putin, or follow the path to peaceful and respectful co-existence within the EU, the prospect of Brussels Eurocrats telling you how bendy your bananas can be suddenly becomes less of a problem – though, that tale is, inevitably, a myth like all the others.
Are we really about to turn our backs on these young, fearful yet hopeful nations, who have recent memories of living under Soviet dictatorship and genocidal strongmen? Will we cut ourselves off, leaving them to fend for themselves in a weakened and uncertain EU? No. Our role must be to stand in solidarity with them, helping them take their first steps towards the steady, democratic, peaceful existence the West has enjoyed for generations. We need to encourage them, not abandon the umbrella project they see as their best hope.
Some Brexiteers harbour hopes of resurrecting some kind of Commonwealth-style Anglosphere as an alternative to playing our part in Europe. Others simply want to retreat into Fortress England. The both are a pipe dream. America and our former colonies understandably have no interest in the idea and the splendid isolationism, which some Leavers yearn for, amounts to little more than geopolitical cowardice. We can’t and we should not abandon our neighbours in Europe, especially at a time as this, with a refugee crisis and emboldened Russia prowling about.
Instead, let’s vote to Remain in order to re-mould the EU in our own image. Let’s stay around the table so we can reform it – make it more democratic, more frugal, less centralising. If we really wanted, we could ally with like-minded countries such as Germany and the Netherlands to steer a better course for all of Europe.
It’s possible to make a respectable Christian case for each side in this referendum, and some already have. But my sense is that rather than looking to the Tower of Babel as an example of God’s intention to scatter the nations (as some Christian Eurosceptics do), we should instead study the early Church. This radical Christian community expressed God’s new kingdom by sharing money and food together, so no one went in need. They co-operated to build a new model of partnership and community. Perhaps that could still have some resonance today.
Editor’s note: Read the counterpoint – Why I may vote ‘Brexit’