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Horsham Liberal Democrats

EU Referendum - reflections of a retired West Sussex County Councillor

April 15, 2016 3:15 PM
By Derek Deedman in Colin Wilsdon

By Colin Wilsdon

"This is an attempt to explain why I feel so strongly that we should remain in the EU. Several people
have said to me that they would like hear from someone who feels passionately about this. I hope
that what I have written below may help.


For me the overriding question is:
What are the long term implications of leaving or staying in - not just for us but for our neighbours
in Europe and the wider world? How do we make sure that our children and grandchildren will live
in an area where liberal democracies flourish, people are free, their rights are respected and where
we do not return to the recent experience of european wars.


Let me put my cards on the table regarding my attitude to Britain and being British. Britain is a
great place to live, has great traditions, great standards of liberty and democracy, great talent and
innovative skill. I am really proud to be British. I am of the generation brought up in the war who
would feel quite emotional at seeing the white cliffs of Dover when returning by ferry from a holiday.
As a teenager I experienced gratitude and respect from people I met in France and Belgium simply
for being part of a country that had come to their aid in the war. So I make no apologies for being
proud of my country and what it has achieved. But I am proud also of the civilised values that are
part of Europe at its best and I see no conflict between the two.


The Brexit campaign makes an appeal to a form of national vanity that bubbles up every now and
then in this country and has never done us any good. At its crudest it says 'don't worry we can go
it alone.' Chris Grayling (former Tory Justice Secretary) says we managed for 200 years so we can
do it again. We need to ask: is he looking for an action replay? Are the conditions of the world and
our position in it the same as they were 200 years ago? It is really dangerous to make confident
assertions about 2016 based on looking over one's shoulder at the past. Boris Johnson says we
decided not to go into the euro in 2000 which shows we can go it alone. There is an important
difference. The euro was a new concept which we were being asked to join. The referendum is
about withdrawing from an organisation where we have worked successfully for 40 years.


There are many examples from the last 100 years which should convince us that a simple appeal
to going it alone often seriously underestimates the difficulties. Take the first world war. It started
with European nation states going to war against Germany in reaction to what they saw as
unacceptable aggression. The British Empire was still strong and troops from the Empire and the
Dominions came to help us in the struggle. The French drew on their colonial troops as well. In
spite of this, stalemate was reached in the trenches of Northern France, submarine warfare
reduced our imports of food, and we were desperate for America to enter the war because it had
large reserves of manpower, food and a huge industrial base. Eventually the US did join and the
war was concluded. Going it alone worked but only because someone stronger joined in.


The League of Nations resulted, as a way of preventing a repeat world war, an example of nation
states ceding some national sovereignty in the interest of world peace and security. It did not solve
the problem - the world was at war again within 20 years - but was it a step in the right direction?
The consensus view after the second world war was that although the League of Nations had not
prevented war the idea of international cooperation should not be abandoned and the United
Nations was created. What it has meant is that action by nation states, outside their borders, is
subject to international scrutiny and the UN, via the Security Council, can authorise action. To the
go-it-alone brigade in the 1950s the UN was a running sore in the same way that the EU is today. I
can remember the resentment from relatives of mine in the 1950s of the way the UN gave a
platform to countries like India (just recently independent) to criticise Britain. The influence of the
Secretary General was particularly resented. Yet despite its shortcomings I doubt whether there is
anyone who thinks that the world would be better off without the UN.


Our entry into what became the second world war was the action of a nation state fulfilling a
commitment. We had guaranteed Poland's border with Germany and when Germany attacked
Poland, and did not withdraw, we declared war. In my early years I was very proud of this as a
principled reaction, keeping our word and moving to the defence of the weak against the strong.
But it stretched our resources to the limit. Fairly quickly we had to negotiate arms supplies from
the US on a lend-lease basis and hope they would join in. The battles we fought on our own and
won, Battle of Britain in the air, El Alamein in N Africa were important because they raised our
morale but also convinced the US we were worth supporting. After the US itself was attacked by
Japan they did join us. We were not capable of winning the second world without their help (and
obviously that of Russia). As in the first world war it was not just the armies the US sent over that
made the difference, but the industrial base they had to manufacture the weapons that were
needed, not to mention food. And that was in spite of our still having a vast empire.


The lesson from this is not contentious. However strong we were industrially and militarily we were
not strong enough on our own. Churchill understood this, having spent a large part of the early
years of the war persuading the Americans to come on board. And this was the man who
pugnaciously raised national morale through his defiant speeches. But there have always been
siren voices who urge "going it alone". The most humiliating for this country was the Suez debacle
in 1956 when Britain conspired with France and Israel to invade Egypt which had nationalised the
Suez Canal. It was a great display of British independence until the US, who had not been
informed, reacted by refusing to support a rescue of sterling which had come under speculative
pressure. Britain faced financial collapse. We declared a ceasefire within a week and began a
withdrawal of forces within a month. In the weeks and months following there were many
discussions about whether we should have just carried on and faced down the US. Nigel Lawson
makes similar statements about the EU. On television recently he said that if negotiations with the
EU over a fresh set of trade deals took too long we should just walk away - a wild statement that
ignores the possible consequences.


Churchill understood that there was more at stake than the issues of economic and military
strength. In September 1946 he gave his famous speech in Zurich on the "Tragedy of Europe",
mourning the human and material devastation of Europe by the war and looking forward to ways of
preventing it happening again. Without the help of the US he said "the Dark Ages would have
returned in all their cruelty and squalor" and "they may still return." The remedy to prevent this, he
said, is "to recreate the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure
under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom." He called it "a kind of United States of
Europe". Churchill was a strong supporter of the British Commonwealth and of the United Nations.
He did not see these groupings as competitive. He saw the Commonwealth and a regional
European organisation as strengthening the UN. Today the concept of a "United States of Europe"
has few supporters but it is clear that politics and not just economics has been present from the
first stirrings of the EU. Those who claim that in 1975 the EU was simply a trading organisation
ignore this history.


Could Churchill's "Dark Ages" return to Europe? France and Germany were determined that they
never should return and this was the impetus behind their early support of the EU. And there has
not in fact been any military conflict between EU states in the last 70 years. Outside the EU within
Europe this is not the case. The photos of concentration camps with starving prisoners in Bosnia in
the mid 90s were a shocking reminder of the second world war. The protagonists in the Bosnian
conflict, Serbia and Croatia were not members of the EU. Croatia is a member now and Serbia
plans to be by 2019. To become members they had to clean up their act. The EU, in this way, and
in the way it has placed conditions on other new members from eastern Europe extends liberal
democratic values-it is a civilising force. If Britain, which has such a proud tradition of upholding
these values, withdrew from the EU it would weaken the preservation and extension of these
principles and make Europe a more dangerous place with implications for our children and grand
children.


This historical, strategic view is what mainly drives my support of the EU. However I am convinced
that nationally we also benefit strongly from being a member and that if we left we would be worse
off in all sorts of ways (not just financial).
Here are a few ways we benefit, nationally and locally in Sussex, from being in the EU.
Anti-discrimination rights embedded in EU law
Four weeks minimum paid leave per year
The minimum wage
Free emergency health care when travelling in Europe.
Guaranteed minimum rights for victims of crime including translation, protection and compensation.
Extradition back to UK via european arrest warrant - over 400 criminals have been returned to the
UK after fleeing to Europe.
Cheaper flights and lower mobile phone roaming charges.
Stronger rules for clean beaches
Strong protection for endangered species such as golden eagle and otter
Energy and fuel efficiency laws
The right for students to enrol on university courses in the EU (1800 taught in English) at local
tuition fees
15000 UK students enabled to study and work in Europe under Erasmus scheme
European funding for research in the UK
£18bn allocated for direct payments to farmers
2 million UK citizens live outside the UK in the EU and have freedom of movement throughout.


Locally in Sussex
Hastings and Bexhill awarded Assisted Area status giving access to EU and UK regeneration funds
…. helping create much needed jobs locally.
Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (covers Brighton, West Sussex, parts of E Sussex,
Surrey and Croydon) has received £61.2m of EU funding for business projects over the period
2014-2020.
South East Local Enterprise Partnership (E Sussex to Thurrock) has won £180m EU funding to
support jobs and skills.
Ecological work in the Ouse and Adur river areas, removing weirs, improving fish populations etc.
has been funded by the EU. The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust with partners is applying for around
2 million euros for work on the River Adur.
Hassocks Community Cycle Hire received EU rural tourism funding of £9376 in 2010 to buy bikes
and tools to set up the business. Further funding from the EU was provided towards the initial
running costs via an EU funded national park fund which provided matched funding for volunteer
time.
Hassocks Twinning Association held an Environmental Issues Conference at Downlands School
including visitors from France and Germany with financial help from EU.


Does the UK gain financially from membership?
The CBI and the Office for Budget Responsibility say that for every £1 we put into the EU we get
almost £10 back in increased trade, investment, growth and lower prices.


Brexit claims about future trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world.
Ian Duncan Smith on the Andrew Marr Show said: "My view is Britain is a great country. The
people here are inventive, innovative, and they will find a way with us to actually have a real deal
that gives Britain access to the world and access to Europe."
Norway has access to the EU Single Market from outside the EU but evidently pays more than the
UK, is subject to all the EU regulations without any voice in formulating them. With this
arrangement we would be financially worse off. Brexit campaigners claim we are so important to
Europe, in particular Germany, that they would be bound to give us a good deal. What they fail to
say is whether it would be as good a deal as we have now. I really think this is whistling in the
wind. We have been a member of a club (the EU). We now want to leave the club, pay no
subscription, no longer be bound by the club rules but keep the benefits. If it was as easy as that
the EU could say: please stay in and as an exception you can have free membership. It doesn't
sound plausible to me.


Regarding the trade deals with the rest of the world, we may, as the Brexit campaigners maintain,
be the fifth largest economy in the world, but the GDP of the EU as a whole is very much bigger
and in 2014 was bigger than that of the US. If over time we reach deals with major trading blocks
will they be as good as the ones we have already as part of our membership of the EU. Brexit
campaigners always say we can reach deals but they never say they will be as good as our current
ones. In other words we could lose money. I think this is another example of misplaced national
vanity.


Loss of sovereignty
Yes there is some loss of sovereignty because we have given up total independence of action in
order gain the benefits of being members of the Club. People who join golf clubs do the same
thing. But much sovereignty for individual states is retained. That is why the EU seems so 'clunky'
in its decision making, the directly elected parliament is democratic but it is balanced by the
Council of the EU where ministers from national governments can stand up for their national
interest.
My feeling is that loss of some sovereignty is inevitable when you join an organisation bigger than
yourself. You accept it for the benefits of club membership. It is a question of agreeing with your
fellow members the right balance.


Migration is an enormous issue. Our economy as a whole benefits from immigration but there are
pressure points on public services in some areas. We need to address these ourselves recognising
the overall financial benefits that come from immigrants. But we must keep it in perspective. Nigel
Farage plays on people's fears by talking about 500 million people in Europe having the right to
come to Britain. Is the whole of Europe wanting to flood into Britain and live here as he implies?
Are the 5.3 million residents of Yorkshire and Humberside charging down the A1 to live in the SE of
England (think how easy it is, same language, no border controls, more jobs). Again it is this
misplaced vanity. It reminds me of when I was very young after the war when I was convinced that
all foreigners were really sad that they weren't British.
The awful crisis in Syria and the migration of refugees to Europe terrifies some people. One
approach is to pull up the national drawbridge and leave others to solve the problem. Another is to
collaborate with our partners in the EU and try to find solutions. The UK alone would not be able to
reach an agreement with a country like Turkey over refugees yet decisions made by Turkey will
have an effect at our borders. It is really a case of 'united we stand, divided we fall'


To sum up why I feel so passionate about remaining in the EU: (1) I think it is best way for us and
our neighbours to achieve a civilised, decent and peaceful future and (2) because we actually
benefit here and now from membership.

Colin Wilsdon

Retired West Sussex County Councillor

27 March 2016