The EU has its failings but it also provides stability for fledgling democracies and keeps our kingdom united - we would be foolish to leave, says former Foreign Secretary William Hague.
[...] some of the most cherished projects of European unity are in deep trouble – the Schengen zone buckling under the weight of new migration, and the euro bedevilled by flaws which were obvious at the start. There is a legitimate question as to whether the EU can survive in its current form two or three decades from now.
It is high time for a vigorous debate to get going. [...]
Yet here I part company with these fellow critics of the EU, distinguishing between deploring the state of an organisation and deciding it is best to leave it. I wait, first of all, for the outcome of the negotiations the Prime Minister has launched, the importance of which should not be underestimated in continental capitals. What happens at the end of them will make a huge difference to sentiment in the Conservative Party, the perceptions of the media, the unity of the Government, and the view of British voters as to whether Europe is capable of positive change.
After that, even those of us who have poured scorn on the EU’s failings should assess dispassionately if it in the true interests of our country to depart it. The arguments about what is best for our economy will rage back and forth. Those who say we have to be in the single market to shape it and benefit from it have the edge, and that will be a vital edge as the public weighs the implications of their choice for their jobs and businesses.
For me, there will be two other major factors, which have not yet featured much in the early jousting ahead of the referendum, but which cannot be ignored. One is that, amid all the clumsy bureaucracy and failed ideas, the EU has provided the structure and the standards for new democracies across central Europe to establish themselves after their many decades of tyranny and tragedy.
And, crucially, this job is not yet done, for if the countries of the Western Balkans are shut out of European institutions, their festering divisions will create one crisis after another, on our own continent, of political turmoil, economic failure and uncontrolled migration. We still need the EU to provide the safe harbour for the docking of fragile democracies, and it would be strange to champion that idea but abandon it ourselves.
The second factor is a related one: whatever the shortcomings of the European “project” it is manifestly not in our interests for either it or the United Kingdom to fall apart. Such will be the challenges to the western world in the coming years, from a turbulent Middle East and a volatile world economy, that the dismembering of our own country by nationalists or the breaking up of Europe into uncontrolled rivalry would make many dangers more threatening still.
There is no doubt that without the United Kingdom, the EU would be weaker. It would lose the fifth largest economy of the world, the continent’s greatest centre of finance, and one of its only two respected military powers. We will have to ask, disliking so many aspects of it as we do, whether we really want to weaken it, and at the same time increase the chances, if the UK left the EU, of Scotland leaving the UK.
Scottish nationalists would jump at the chance to reverse the argument of last year’s referendum – now it would be them saying they would stay in Europe without us. They would have the pretext for their second referendum, and the result of it could well be too close to call.
To end up destroying the United Kingdom and gravely weakening the European Union would not be a very clever day’s work. So, even as a long-standing critic of so much of that struggling organisation, I am unlikely in 2016 to vote to leave it.
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