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07 January 2016

Evening Standard/ Nick Clegg: My birthday wish is that we win the debate for staying in the EU

As the rival camps marshal their arguments before the referendum on Europe there is a trio of paramount concerns, argues the former Lib Dems leader.

On this day 49 years ago, British diplomats were preparing for negotiations with the six founder members of the European Economic Community — Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — over our application to join. It was our second attempt to get into the European club, having tried four years earlier only to be rebuffed with a haughty “Non!” from Charles de Gaulle. 

The debate about whether we should be in or out was remarkably similar to the one we are having today. People on the pro side of the argument believed it was in our economic and strategic interest to join; the antis warned it would lead to the surrender of too much British sovereignty. Plus ça change.

This year it looks as if we’ll have the debate all over again. So here are three New Year rules of thumb to help deal with all the claims and counterclaims that will be hurled about in the months ahead.

First, you can’t have your cake and eat it (even on your birthday). [...]Yet this is exactly what the anti-EU campaigners claim: that we can merrily leave the EU, stop paying our dues, refuse to play by the rules, but still get all the benefits of being part of the world’s largest marketplace and ask the other EU member states to shoulder all the onerous duties for us. [...]

Eurosceptic campaigners tend to fall silent when asked how exactly we would preserve our rights within the EU’s Single Market having, erm… just left the EU. 

Or, more foolishly still, they claim that Norway or Switzerland are paragons of unfettered freedom which we should emulate. The truth is that both countries have to abide by all the EU’s rules and pay into its coffers, surrender control over their borders — all without having any say within the EU itself. So much for unfettered freedom. 

Second — and this is a point for the pro-EU side — remember that people tend to vote with the heart, not the head. The referendum will not be won by statistics, but by emotion. I don’t just mean flighty emotion about the virtues of international solidarity and co-operation. Fear of the unknown is a powerful — and legitimate — emotion too. In a risk-averse society people rightly don’t want to take risks with their wellbeing and security. So pro-EU campaigners must appeal to the strong, emotional attachment to stability, to solidity, to the imperfect but reassuring contours of the world we know. [...]

The sooner he can emerge from the undergrowth of his somewhat contorted renegotiation and do what he can do well — speak clearly and with conviction to the British people —  the better. Voters will respond to leadership which is fuelled by conviction, not renegotiation tactics driven by internal party calculation. I suspect David Cameron knows this only too well. He must get through the renegotiation as soon as he can otherwise the battle for people’s hearts, never mind their minds, will start to slip away.

Finally, safety in numbers is a precious thing. [...]

Far from inhibiting our freedom to act in the modern world, membership of the EU gives us greater clout to extend our reach. Yet the antis want to make us more — not less — insecure by forcing us to face these challenges alone. 

We were not members of the European Economic Community when I was born. By the time my 50th birthday rolls around, we may be outside Europe once again. I for one fervently hope that isn’t the case.

Full article on Evening Standard

© Evening Standard

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