Wanting the best for your country
To be patriotic is to love your country and to want the best for it. The majority of the British public believe that it would be best for the UK to join the European Union again. For anyone holding those beliefs, supporting EU membership is truly patriotic.
There is no contradiction between being patriotic and supporting co-operation with other countries. There is never any suggestion that being part of NATO is not patriotic. It is clear that the UK’s military power is enhanced by being part of a larger defence organisation, as Tom Tugendhat has pointed out. Being part of the UN – indeed, part of the Security Council – has undoubtedly increased the influence of the UK.
The UK co-operated with EU member states in areas such as trade, consumer and employee rights, manufacturing standards, policing, and science. This was a positive factor for the UK’s prosperity and its influence and impact across the world. Progress is achieved more through co-operation than through isolation. For many years, I was proud that my country was a key player in the most advanced and successful examples of international co-operation that this world has ever seen.
Recognising a mistake
There is now very little doubt that the UK was better off as a member of the EU, and that leaving the EU was a mistake. This realisation, by a large and increasing majority, represents progress. I welcome it, and I do not criticise anyone for voting for Brexit. They may have felt that the UK’s interests were best supported by leaving, but many now see that the UK’s interests will be better served by joining the EU again.
But it is only if we allow the mistake to persist, that the mistake turns into a disaster. In business, organisations that do well learn from their mistakes and change course. The challenge for the UK is to have the maturity not simply to recognise a mistake but to do something about it.
There are powerful interests working against the idea. Politicians may claim that they are not swayed by the fact that a majority of the population favours rejoining the EU, because they, the politicians, in effect, know better.
Somehow, they have decided that the wise course of action is not to consider this possibility. Simultaneously – and paradoxically – some of them declare that the British people decided to leave the EU, and that it is not for them (the politicians) to reopen the question. They abdicate any accountability for the initial decision but assume responsibility for the subsequent direction, or lack of it. This appears to be political expediency rather than patriotism.
Patriotism does not mean being stuck in the past
No policy should be exempt from scrutiny.
Arch-Brexiter Andrea Leadsom, in response to a question at a ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ event, attempted to dodge all accountability by declaring that there was no manifesto for the 2016 referendum. Therefore, apparently no-one was accountable for any particular outcome. Despite campaigning enthusiastically for Brexit at the time, many political Brexiters have migrated to the stance of ‘The British people have chosen Brexit and we have to make the best of it’.
This has the ring of clinging to a mistake, in the absence of the courage to face up to it. Major changes of course should only be considered when the change is the settled will of a large majority.
Joining the EU again should only happen if these two conditions are met (although neither was true for Brexit). But it appears that the major reason cited for continuing down the Brexit path is the public support for Brexit in 2016 (actually only from 37% of those allowed to vote). This is a strange rationale to use when that public support has evaporated.
Perhaps in reality the major reason for politicians to support Brexit is their estimates that this might benefit them electorally. But 629 out of 632 constituencies in Great Britain were shown (in polling by unherd.com) earlier this year to have a majority believing that Brexit was a mistake.
Patriotism does not mean being stuck in the past, whether that is the distant past of a British Empire on which the sun never set, or the more recent past in 2016 of the ‘Take Back Control’ illusion. Patriotic politicians should support what they believe is best for their country now and in the future; but even political expediency may drive UK politicians to recognise the support for the UK joining the EU again.
Patriotism must be realistic
The opinion polls are only going in one direction, for the simple reason that the damage to the UK from Brexit is becoming more and more evident, with even Nigel Farage declaring “Brexit has failed”. There are scant Brexit benefits apparent, as clearly evidenced by Brexit supporters claiming as key successes outcomes that are trivial, or are unrelated to Brexit (such as the Covid vaccine rollout).
We can see at present that it is possible for a 60% majority to be largely ignored by politicians of all parties. But could they ignore an 80% majority? And with 80% in favour of joining, wouldn’t it be clear what the duty of a patriotic politician would be?
It could be questioned whether it would be patriotic to support a ‘lost cause’ but rejoining the EU has increasing momentum. To join the EU again would require:
- Public support – which is large and growing;
- Political support – which will inevitably follow the public support. As an historical example, the Tories completely reversed their policy on the Community Charge (“Poll Tax”) between 1987 and 1990, ejecting the UK’s longest-serving prime minister of the last century in the process;
- Support from the EU, which both public statements and economic logic suggest would be forthcoming;
- Acceptable conditions for joining; critics cite the Copenhagen Criteria, but typically fail to recognise that these are always negotiated bearing in mind the circumstances of the applicant country.
The whole process of joining again, while legally following the standard route of EU Article 49, is in practice likely to be much easier for a former member which has already fulfilled the EU acquis.
How can we help to make this happen?
For those of us who support the UK joining the EU again, our task is to keep the issue in the public view, to ensure that we are clear about what is best for the UK, and about what we support for patriotic reasons. In this way the UK public majority, including many of those who voted to leave, can see that they are part of a large and growing patriotic movement.
The second National Rejoin March (NRM II) is a practical way of showing that support. The march starts in London from Hyde Park (assembling between 12 noon and 1pm) on Saturday 23 September, marching towards Parliament Square, where a panel of speakers will give their individual and, in many cases, youthful perspectives for the future of Britain in the EU. Coaches to provide return travel for the event are available from many locations.
Come and join us!