It is fascinating to watch the way that the “Leave” and “Remain” camps are spinning events and comments from prominent people.
There was Theresa May’s recent speech in Washington, at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The BBC picks up the theme of migration which, according to Mrs. May (and she’s probably right) is both caused (in part) and exploited by extremism. Oddly enough the BBC does not seem to be making the link to the EU.
The Telegraph, however, does. Political correspondent Ben Riley-Smith writes “The European Union is vital in the fight against international terrorism, Theresa May has indicated as she said jihadists threatening Britain cannot be defeated by ‘acting in isolation’”. This is bad and ambiguous journalism. Did Mrs. May actually say that the European Union is vital? Or did the journo merely infer it from her emphasis on international cooperation?
I have managed to find the speech, and have even read it. There are a number of references to the EU, and to working with it, although no specific statement that we need to remain in the EU to secure cooperation. She did not say “The European Union is vital”. The “Leave” position would be that we certainly need to work with a range of international organisations including the EU, but that’s not the same as being in the EU. And we note for example that Europol already has cooperation arrangements with 18 countries that are not EU member-states.
There is a vital distinction between “working with” and “being in”. There is a huge effort by the Remain side to conflate international cooperation with EU membership. But these are not at all the same thing, and indeed there is a case to be made that the EU militates against international cooperation, by focussing our attention on (as it were) our own back-yard, in a little fag-end of the Eurasian land-mass, and perhaps failing to devote enough attention to the world at large.
Another way in which this mind-set reveals itself is the implication that after Brexit we will no longer be able to cooperate with our European neighbours. Of course we will. But we will be cooperating as an independent and sovereign entity – not as a subservient province with most of our laws made in a foreign city. I have always expressed my ambition for the UK in Europe as “a relationship based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation”.
Theresa is absolutely right that we cannot address terrorism by “acting in isolation”. But no one is suggesting that we should act in isolation. We are, after all, permanent members of the UN Security Council. We are a leading member of NATO, of the OSCE and innumerable other international fora. NATO and the OSCE are arguably far more effective organisations to address security issues than the EU – which, as we have dramatically seen in recent times, seems to be rather ineffective at dealing with anything.
Besides the example of Mrs. May’s speech, we also have the spat over Prince William’s recent speech. This has been seized on by the Remainians as a coded call for Britain to stay in the EU – despite the fact that at no point does the Prince refer to the EU at all. What he did, quite rightly, was to praise the UK’s “outward-looking history”. Ask yourself, what is the best way to be outward-looking? To be an offshore province in a declining, inward-looking, self-referential, protectionist European Union? Or to be a great global trading nation, respecting all the world but focussing most on growth areas like China and India?
In this context, the Telegraph’s headline writer, who came up with “Duke of Cambridge boosts EU ‘In’ campaign by praising UK’s ‘outward looking’ history”, is guilty of an excessive and highly biased inference.