The European Union has been a massive force for good in the World. The global issues that face us today as a country, a continent, and as a species can only be overcome by international cooperation. There was a day when you could divide policies between domestic and foreign, that day has passed us.
There is no domestic issue in the modern world that does not have a foreign quotient with it: not jobs; not education; not health; not the environment; not terrorism, not crime, not national security. There is no sovereignty a state has that is more important than the sovereignty to defend itself, yet we found it entirely in the national interest to pool that sovereignty with others to give us better protection for ourselves. We pooled our sovereignty right from the days of NATO; that is what NATO was about and that is the reality today.
I passionately believe that there is nothing I want to see delivered for the people of Britain that cannot better be delivered by acting in partnership with our European Union partners than by acting alone. Nothing. We can tackle crime better through the European arrest warrant. We can create the environmental cleanliness we need because we can do that on a European basis. We can create better security. We can tackle the refugee crisis better too.
People have said “It’s the refugee issue that’s now persuading us not to vote for Europe”. This is madness: this is not a new problem; this is an old problem that goes back for 1,000 years or more—the vast passage of peoples—and is much better dealt with on a European, regional basis than on a singular one.
The question we face in June is are we better dealing with these issues alone, singularly, acting unilaterally, or will we find greater success working in concert with our friends, with those whom we share so many interests? Manifestly, it is the latter.
There are those who argue, “Of course, we could set up these trade deals with other people”. It would take a long time, it has taken Canada 10 years and it has not got there yet. It will take us a long time to set up a trade deal with, say, China. But how does that help us tackle crime on our streets when that is a European problem best tackled through the European arrest warrant on a European basis? How will it help us to create the clean environment that we want for the people of this country, when pollution is no respecter of borders? It is the deals we reach with our European partners that deliver what we want for our citizens.
I have seen the benefits of this international cooperation first hand, and it is an experience that has reinforced my passion for Europe. I remember in Bosnia, when I was trying to build peace after war, that it was the institutions of the European Union that gave me more assistance in creating those institutions of the state—a legal institution, a customs institution, and intelligence services. The European Union is a massive soft power that, acting together, helps to build peace after conflict. There is no better.
Yet now, at this time, at what seems a peak of turbulence in a dangerous and unforgiving world, people argue for us to abandon our solidarity with our European neighbours, to adopt the illusory sovereignty of a cork bobbing around behind other people’s ocean liners. That is the way to serve the worst interests of this country. By so doing, we would diminish our influence, we would diminish our protection and we would diminish our capacity for success.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon is a Liberal Democrat peer.
He was the International Community High Representative & European Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 - 2006