We live in an age of forgetfulness. But we ought never to forget what our forefathers taught us – that democracy doesn’t just happen. This EU referendum is not about the narrow issues of the recent deal. It’s about something much greater.
In our long Island history there have been many times when Britain has not been well-served by alignment with Europe. Rather it has been our country’s vision, inspiration and courage that have acted as the catalyst to betterment on the continent. We should be proud of our part in liberating Europe, of guaranteeing its borders and of our involvement in those seismic changes which have extended freedom to all its peoples.
When Britain stood alone in 1940 after the defeat at Dunkirk, we were cut off and ridiculed. True leadership sometimes does feel isolating. Yet we have never suffered for it. We are resourceful; we are well connected; our brand is strong in the world.
We have trade agreements outside the EU and the EU exports more to us than we export to it. Would the remaining EU members place their citizens (or ours for that matter) in harm’s way by refusing to cooperate on security matters in the event of a Brexit? Would they ask us to cease our contributions to common security and defence missions? The simple truth is this: no.
Europe now faces grave problems; the migrant crisis; a surge in criminal activity and a complete breakdown of trust between member states as to how they manage their security and borders. These challenges – like all problems – will be solved by imagination, flexibility and national responsibility.
Yet it is these precisely qualities that have been extinguished by the EU.
Debt and weak growth have seen the EU share of global growth halved since the signing of the Single European Act; our small and medium-sized businesses are having to deal with ever more EU red tape. Even the basic tenets surrounding the freedom of movement of goods, services and capital have yet to deliver for all EU members, as our banking and insurance sectors and our hauliers can testify.
The EU is on a crash course and it desperately needs to reform.
This reform would see the EU genuinely act in the interests of its nation states and their citizens. What is required for is simple: democracy and accountability. That is the necessary condition for a safer, stronger, and better off Britain and Europe. Yet time and time again the EU has failed to achieve the reform desired by its peoples.
It has failed to recognise the intolerable strain of forced harmonisation on its member nations; it has failed to respond to concerns about its budget and corruption, with its accounts failing their audits for two decades; and, most recently, it has failed to accede in full to the Prime Minister’s very reasonable requests.
David Cameron has deployed energy, drive and charm in recent months to deliver the best “In” option. We owe him our thanks not only for that but also for the referendum he has delivered. Unfortunately, he has merely proved that you cannot help those who will not help themselves.
That the deal offered falls so far short of what was wanted is not the Prime Minister’s failure. It is the EU’s failure
We should be proud of the role we have played in Europe. We have many friends in many countries who understand and appreciate that historic role. If Britain leaves the EU it will be more in sorrow than in anger. Quiet voices will hear our news. The best of them will receive it in silence and sadness.
They will understand that, from time to time, the oldest, most stable and most successful country in Europe has a duty to remind a European Union barely 50 years old that government is the servant, and not the master, of the people.
Penny Mordaunt is Minister of State for the Armed Forces.