This blog is part of a series of perspectives on the EU referendum from prominent humanists on either side of the debate. Each puts forward a humanist case for the United Kingdom either remaining a member of, or leaving, the European Union. All six perspectives are linked in the image below.
Crispin Blunt: Reject Europe’s claims of a Christian identity, reject the EU
Today we find ourselves locked in much deeper integration with Europe than was presented to the British people when they endorsed our membership in the 1975 referendum. European judges can overwrite British law and direct our legal regulations. Those many aspects of the acquis subject to QMV leave our own government and Parliament frequently and controversially overridden by the competing interests of our partners and even more frequently our government’s position quietly compromised to achieve unanimity.
The truth is the geo-politics of our island and its history means the British position on Europe is hopelessly compromised. The integration required to make this great idealistic project work is disguised from the British people, because they don’t really get it.
For British humanists, the debate over Turkish accession is instructive. It brings out, not least from our central European partners, talk of Europe’s Christian identity. That a large Muslim country would be an unacceptable departure from this. Just at the moment it seems polls indicate we are now formally a majority nation of non-believers we are being asked to check back in for a particular ethnic religious identity within the EU. The UK’s situation reflects our global internationalist outlook, where all religions, and now mostly none, all rub along relatively happily together. In the same way our multi-ethnic population reflects that global cultural and historic legacy. That’s what makes the European project so much more conflicted for the UK.
The central European response to the prospect of Turkish accession doesn’t sit easily with us. The UK is formally still a strong supporter of Turkish accession. That reflects our much more relaxed view of religion and identity and the strategic need to secure Turkey within the European sphere of influence. But the practical consequences today of our economically marginal citizens being competed out of work and the prospect of progress in their own country by professionally qualified east Europeans would be made dramatically worse by Turkish accession. Their plight is going to become even more marked when the living wage kicks in by the end of this Parliament, whether or not Turkey accedes.
Our own society’s cohesion and stability should be of interest to humanists. With formal control of immigration we may just about sustain the pressures of global migration patterns. The challenges that will inevitably bring, difficult outside the EU but much more so inside, would at least produce politicians who can be directly held to account if we are outside the EU. Britain has produced a society with a very global outlook, and perhaps as a consequence it’s no surprise organised religion is now a distinctly minority sport. I believe we are best able to protect this outside the EU, but with the rights of all our minorities and identities still sustained by the wholly different treaty base of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK is a problem for the EU. Our lack of commitment to the institutions is being paid by our partners and us on security. Outside the EU we can and would continue to cooperate on security issues much as we do now. Inside the EU we actively prevent our partners achieving the kind of integration required to make the EU a really effective security and defence player in the world. It is absolutely in our interest that the EU sharing our values, becomes a more effective partner.
26 of our partners are either Euro or pre-Euro countries. They must move towards some kind of United States of Europe or the Euro area will collapse. An accountable body will have to vote the common tax and benefits across Europe to support the common currency area. Unsurprisingly many of our partners also want a common defence capability, which makes complete sense if your interests are so closely aligned that it’s bizarre that you should not defend them together.
And it’s us, the UK that actively seeks to prevent this. It’s toxic to promote this in the British body politic because most of us Britons are simply not checked in for the European ideal and are not prepared to make the sovereignty sacrifices involved. It’s why this kind of narrative has been completely missing from the Remain campaign.
We have the luxury of the option of a perfectly sustainable global role outside the EU, rather more attuned to our people, economic strengths, history and culture. We should take it and help our partners resolve their need for further political and security integration rather than obstruct them.