I am a European. I woke up this morning in a part of Europe called Liverpool; Liverpool is part of the North of England; the North of England is part of England; England is part of Great Britain; Great Britain is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the UK is part of Europe; Europe is part of the World!
It’s not that complicated is it? Being European does not mean that I am not English; being English does not mean that I am not a Scouser; being English does however mean that I am not Scottish or American. If I accept that I am a citizen of the World I can accept that but do not view their Country as better or worse because I am not a citizen of it and (dare I say it) they have different customs and may have a different language to me?
Sometimes I hear a lot of nonsense talked about Europe and some of it is from the pro-European side. The one I particularly loathe is the myth that it is the European Union that is stopping us going to war as we did so many times in the past. The idea that Germany and the UK would fight each other of the UK came out of the Union is risible. Come to think of it we have various times fought France; Spain; Holland; Italy as well and we are not going to regress with them either.
My real anger, however, is reserved for the little Britain blimps who think that the sun never sets on the British Empire! The contempt with which many of them look down on people with different customs and different priorities than we do is a disgrace. This Country does many things well. We have a deep seated belief in democracy. In the context of many parts of the World corruption is low; the press is free; living standards are high; our NHS is still and will continue to remain the source of much envy internationally. Even inequality, where I consider there to be too large a gap between rich and poor is low by the standards of most of the World.
The reckless nonsense which they peddle is almost farcical. Rampant bureaucracy prevails they say. Not so. The EU to cover 27 Countries has only slightly more staff than a large County Council in the UK. 75% of our laws are really made in Europe they proclaim. Not so. The EU provides the basis for about 50% of our environmental laws and about 10% of the rest. Even in these areas they cover areas where the UK would need to create laws anyway. The EU courts hold sway over our courts with that appalling human rights nonsense. Not so because there are no EU Courts. The international courts are part of a Western European system with a parliamentary and local council chamber which was established at the behest of Winston Churchill.
Look at almost any story about straight bananas; square onions and the rest and they are invariably 99% untrue with a vestige of reality distorted out of recognition of the original objectives of the legislation or measures being implemented.
Am, I uncritical of the EU? Of course not. In the last 50 years society has changed, communications have changed; values have changed and alliances have changed. In particular the EU has gone from 6 to 27 members but in some ways still has the mechanisms of the small club rather than the up to date requirements of this important bloc.
Above all we need the EU because we need friends in a hostile world. You want us to have greater links with the Commonwealth. So do I. I work with the Commonwealth Local Government Forum to create those links. You think we should have stronger links with the US? So do I and I was in Arkansas last month trying to assist those links.
BUT there is no other place which is significant to us as Europe. 40% of our exports go there; the vast majority of our summer holidays (where you should NOT be reading this) are taken in Europe. We share a market and so often the UK because of our location and our language is seen as the place for outside investment from the rest of the World into Europe as a whole. On a wider scale the EU is about to create a free trade zone with America our largest none-European partner. We would be outside this and the access to both American and European markets if we pull out of the EU.
Looking back on defence issues all our most recent interventions in places such as Libya and Syria are undertaken in joint actions with our European colleagues coordinated through NATO. We share training; equipment; research and ideas which help us maintain our safety.
In terms of international crime we rely on tools such as the European Arrest warrant to bring our fugitives to justice and to send back their criminals to be dealt with though their judicial processes. Our police forces work internationally to combat the international crime which is fuelled by the drugs trade and other profiteering activity.
Liberal Democrats should not be scared of this debate and proclaiming our European and Internationalist beliefs. It is one of the basic tenets of our faith that there is one world and that we are all citizens of it. We believe and we know it to be true that we are all mutually interdependent on each other for food, commerce; the climate; peace and security
Bring on the debate in Liverpool; in the North; in England; in Greater Britain; in the UK. As we have done before we will lead the call for a rational and informed debate and make it absolutely clear on which side of the argument we stand.