Federal Europe or splendid isolation?

Chris Bryant

3 February 2005

I spoke in a debate yesterday on the subject of “Britain’s destiny: federal Europe or splendid isolation?”. You can guess which side I was on. I don’t agree that there is such a thing as destiny, though. Nothing is preordained. It may make sense for Britain to do one thing rather than another but it is not inevitable that it will do the right thing. That is what the argument now is all about. Pro-Europeans like me have got to fight for it rather than simply assume that our better understanding of the world is automatically going to win.

Also in the debate was Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda. He gave a great speech. The last question asked from the floor really summed up the challenge for the pro-Europeans: why aren’t the pro-Europeans more passionate? Chris Bryant left nobody present in any doubt of his willingness to take up the fight in the next year and a half. Our opponents were Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Iain Milne, of the think tank Global Britain. They seem to think that free trade agreements between countries are a preferable alternative to a proper single market. Economically, that is surely wrong (a home market of 450 million consumers is better for business than one of only 60 million) and it also misses an important point: a free trade agreement is not an alternative to a single market but a precursor to it. Why scrap tariff barriers but leave non-tariff barriers in place?

Iain Milne also presented a rather mournful view of the future of Europe based on its demographics. Germany, Russia and Bulgaria are watching their populations decline, he said, and therefore the UK should not seek to share a European Union with them. This strikes me as an odd argument for two reasons.

First, why should the size of the population of another member state make any difference? Do we think we should have different relationship with Sweden and Denmark because one has 50 per cent more people than the other? A small or declining population might be a factor in a country’s own policy-making, but their declining population should not be a factor in our policy-making.

Secondly, this argument depends on selective quotation. Germany might be looking at a future population decline, for example, but the French and Dutch populations are growing at the same rate as ours. Iain Milne avoided commenting on this.

On the positive side, though, at least there are some anti-Europeans who welcome immigration and don’t oppose it. The reason why the British population is set to continue growing is because of our openness to new people from other countries. Robert Kilroy-Silk has raised immigration as the major reason for him to set up his new party. It is good that Global Britain does not agree with him on this issue. If they did, of course, their demographic arguments would be completely ridiculous.

We also had the pleasure of the company of Tom Wise, a UKIP MEP from the East of England. He repeated the familiar but disputed claim that Jean Monnet deliberately set out to undermine democracy. Nobody who actually knew Monnet believes this. I have asked Tom Wise for the source of his allegation: I shall let you know what transpires.

This blog entry first appeared on www.yes-campaign.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

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