Out into the world’ was the slogan of the Brexiteers’ predecessors in the 1975 European referendum. In a similar vein, Leave campaigners in this referendum have argued that the United Kingdom’s future lies not in remaining a member of the European Union with our neighbours but instead in looking to the United States and the Commonwealth.
Barack Obama’s visit is about to pour a bucket of cold water all over that argument. So hysterical are the leading Brexit campaigners about what he might say that they more resembled children desperately putting their fingers in their ears so they won’t hear what the adults are saying than grown-ups confident about their argument.
But our allies do have a right to speak out. America’s soldiers have given their lives on the battlefields of Europe, as have Canada’s and others. When Brexiteers argue the modern equivalent of ‘out into the world’ it is worth remembering that most of the opinion in the world that we regard as coming from friends is calling on us to stay in.
Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, said, ‘the EU is a unique partner for Canada, and Canada has a direct stake in a strong and united EU.’
Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, said recently, ‘A strong UK as part of the European Union would be in Australia’s interests.’
New Zealand prime minister John Key said, ‘If we had the equivalent of Europe on our doorstep, we certainly wouldn’t be looking to leave it … We certainly think it’s a stronger position for Britain to be in Europe.’
Canada, Australia, New Zealand with the United States about to follow. All acknowledge it is our decision but the message from all is clear – they want the UK to remain in the EU.
The centrepiece of the argument to leave the EU, according to its proponents, is that it gives us more control. The point that will be clear from Obama’s comments will be that in the interconnected world the exam question for any nation is not control but power. Our oldest and strongest ally wants a UK that is powerful. And it wants a EU that is powerful. And both are advanced by the UK remaining a member.
Those less friendly to us understand this too. While our allies and friends call on us to remain in, no one would be happier to see Europe weakened and transatlantic ties strained by Brexit than Vladimir Putin.
Power is leveraged by us acting in concert with our neighbours. The power of our companies to sell their goods to a market of 500m people according to rules we have a big say in deciding. The power of our government to influence our economic environment by arguing for reform in Europe. The power to act together, for example, to agree a sanctions regime in response to Russian aggression. The power to reach trade agreements as a group of 28 countries.
In the past week the economic argument for remaining in the EU has become clearer, with the costs of Brexit being estimated as over £4,000 per household and the Leave campaign offering us a future with the same economic relationship to the EU as Albania’s. But, vital as the economic questions are, the EU is also a matter of values. Obama’s visit will show that those who share our values most closely and who want us to remain a powerful force for good in the world want a strong Britain in a strong EU, and that the fragmentation of the west will please only our enemies.
Pat McFadden MP is former shadow minister for Europe. He tweets @PatMcFaddenMP