ACTION and BREXIT, Sept 2016

Many articles have been written about Britain’s referendum vote on June 23rd. A further comment from ACTION must be careful of repeating what has been said already. The result of the vote was 52% in favour of leaving the European Union, with 48% in favour of remaining a member.

This is not the place to rehearse once again the reasons behind the vote or the implications of the closeness of the result (and the fact that different parts of the UK voted in different ways). What can be clearly stated three months after the vote is that it is still highly uncertain what form BREXIT will take. It is even possible (though unlikely) that BREXIT won’t happen at all. In that case the UK will, at the end of the day, remain in the European Union.

Flag_of_EuropeIn some ways, despite the fact that the vote did not go in the way that ACTION would have liked, it is possible to take heart from what has followed it. In the UK there has probably been more genuine desire to learn about the EU since the referendum than there ever was when the country was a member. From the moment the vote was taken, beginning with those thousands of people who started clicking on ‘google search’ in order to find out what the EU was, there has been a discussion of what leaving means in practice for Britain and for Britons.

People and parliamentarians have been asking: what will be the new relationship with the European Union? Will it be the Swiss model? Or the Norwegian, Turkish, Japanese or Canadian model? Or will it be none of these, ‘nothing off the shelf’ – as the current Prime Minister, Mrs. May, has put it?

The discussion in the UK is now much more informed than during any of the earlier debates (such as there were) about what it meant to be a member of the European Union. Somewhat ironically, the UK will learn a lot more about the EU by leaving it than it ever bothered to find out by being – for forty-three years – a reluctant member, with one foot in, the other foot out and its mind still dreaming of a global role that made being European so ‘terribly confining’.

By leaving the European Union the UK will also be assured that the EU is, in fact, a system of sovereignty-sharing from which nation-states can withdraw if they no longer wish to be part of it. It is not a system like that of the United States. Once a state has joined the United States, it cannot leave (as the American Civil War made clear).

In that sense the European Union is not an exercise in building a nation-state (as so many eurosceptics pretended until they found that the door marked ‘exit’ was open to them).

Rather, the European Union is a way of ensuring that nation-states share enough responsibility to ensure their continued cooperation, while retaining enough of their separate identities to feel comfortable inside a grouping of nations. That remains the genius of the EU. It is the reason for its continuing expansion within a continent that after centuries of bloodshed has remained relatively stable since the Second World War.

Parts of the UK – such as Scotland and Northern Ireland – already recognise this. They may well find that EU membership in the future will be preferable to being tagged on to ‘Little England’. In Scotland’s case it would join as an independent country; in the case of Northern Ireland it would join as part of a united Ireland.

What will then be left of the UK, even though it voted to leave, always has the option of re-applying for membership of the EU at a later date if it changes its mind.

Despite the vote on June 23rd, it is ACTION’s belief that the supranational method of cooperation – also known as the community method – still has considerable traction. It has, we believe, the potential to transform relations between nation-states worldwide. This is ACTION’s goal. We hope to achieve it by promoting the establishment of food reserves in other parts of the world.