how we answer the eu question will shape Britain’s future
by Kulveer S ranger
Over the past 15 years,I have been fortunate to be involved in debates and elections that have led to changes in the way we live our lives.
As a campaigner and a candidate, I’ve experienced victories and defeats, but there has always been the backstop that the pendulum of political power can swing again the next time the question is asked in the voting booth.
This will not be the case after Thursday (23) and that is why I am writing this personal mes- sage. In the European referendum, I am not a campaigner or candidate. Like many of you, I am a British citizen. I have, for the last few months, listened and watched as the arguments for ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ have been made, but I have struggled to reach a decision.
Why has it taken me so long? As we have all heard, this is not a black or white decision. The vote is not being fought based on allegiances to political parties, who is making the best policy promises for the next five years or even which political personality do I like the most. The an- swer to this question will shape our future and that of generations to come. The result will have a seismic impact on our country’s standing in global affairs and will impact our economic for- tunes in the short, medium and long term.
My friends, this is the decision of our times. The last time we were asked was 41 years ago – and as someone born in 1975, I have only lived in a Britain that has been in the EU. Maybe I should take this opportunity to live without it?
But there are two personal experiences that make me seriously consider what membership of the EU means for us. In March 2007, I accom- panied David Cameron, the then leader of the Conservative party, to Brussels where he spoke at the European Reform conference. Cameron was intent on highlighting the positive work that the EU had done. The historic reconciliation between France and Germany, the economic rebuilding of the continent post the Second World War, and the consolidation of democracy across Europe
– including Eastern Europe and in the southern periphery of Spain, Portugal and Greece.
However, his main message – in what became known as ‘the 3G Europe’ speech – was the need for Europe to focus on the bigger issues on the global horizon. The need to unite and tackle the challenges of globalisation, global warming and global poverty. The future prime minister was trying to persuade European leaders that they needed to look outward, not navel gaze and be distracted by ever-increasing
integration, to ap- preciate that there were greater threats to the people of Europe. They needed to demonstrate that not only did they appreciate that these chal- lenges existed but were also working to tackle them and improve the lives of millions.
Since that speech, I can say that our prime minister has remained consistent, even though some of the threats have changed. The impact of a global recession has transformed the migrant labour market, and the emergence of an abhor- rent terrorist ideology has drastically changed the political landscape of Europe. But his call for the EU to reform while being united in facing a challenging world still rings true.
My second experience is from 2011 when, as an advisor to the then mayor of London Boris Johnson, I spent six months yo-yoing
between London and Brussels as we challenged the po- tential €300 million fine for air quality. The mayor had taken dealing with London’s air seri- ously, investing in retrofitting old buses, banning the most polluting taxis, planting thousands of trees and spending millions to encourage cy- cling. In fact, London was doing and spending more than nearly every other city, yet the EU bureaucrats and technocrats were oblivious to the amount of effort we were putting in.
To my surprise, I did not find much disagree- ment from the Commission when I made the case for all the work London was doing. What I was shocked by was the lack of awareness and knowledge within the convoluted labyrinth of the Commission’s structures, which meant they only had a very basic understanding of the is- sues, and hence they could easily make the wrong conclusions and decisions.
This example of poor bureaucracy and lack of political accountability had a huge impact on me. So why is it that on Thursday, I will vote to remain? When I reflected on my frustrations of dealing with the EU, I would ask, how did we get to this point? Why were such ill-informed
poli- cies being developed? Why did decision makers not realise how wrong they were?
The answer was because we, the British, were not playing our part. We were in Europe but al- most a silent partner. We would not participate, we acted aloof or uninterested. Worse, we acted
like a petulant child, throwing tantrums at things we did not like but not working with the policy makers to influence, shape and inform decision making to ensure the best result. How can we blame Europe for our problems when we do not roll up our sleeves and get stuck in?
So as we all now weigh up what will best for our future, I implore you not to be distracted by a distorted and false message of sending money to Europe versus spending money in Britain. This false promise ignores the benefits of a vast market and its value to our economy.
Do not believe the tainted logic that by leaving, we can enforce a draconian stop to immigration. The ugly anti-migrant
rhetoric has been the same, used against every community of immi- grants that have landed on these shores over the decades – including when my grandparents and parents heard it in the 1960s. It ignores the hard work, great businesses and enriching of our so- ciety and culture that various communities have brought to the UK, and the ambitions and dreams of those who come here now.
Let us unite to say yes, there are challenges to being in the EU. Yes, we want change, more con- trol and better decisions that will improve our lives. But we can only achieve this in an increas- ingly globalised world by being friends with our nearest neighbours. Our great nation should take its rightful place – brimming with confi- dence, showing how British values of democra- cy, rule of law, and tolerance of others can be at the heart of a stronger Europe – with us remain- ing in and leading it.
n Kulveer Ranger is a former vice-chairman
of the Conservative party and an adviser to ex- London mayor Boris Johnson.