It is time for the UK to stop being the sulking teenager of Europe

by Ranjit Sidhu

If we are really honest, the United Kingdom has never fully bought into the EU. Like the sulking teenager on a family holiday, we have been sitting there, slightly away from the others, looking in the opposite direction and when asked our opinion mumbled something unintelligible or shouted back You all do what you want, just leave me alone” (see any EU treaty since inception).

This position has led to the EU institutions being shaped by others so as to appear completely foreign to the eyes of the UK general public.

This refusal to get fully involved has also lead to the UK pursuing policies on Europe that have evolved into reasons for leaving.

It is often forgotten that the expansion of the EU to encompass the Eastern European states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland was a policy pushed hard by the Eurosceptics.

It was a policy that John Major used to provide some semblance of unity for his Government in making Europe wider rather than deeper”, i.e. enlarging the Union to prevent the great fear of the Eurosceptics in the 1990s: a Franco/German/Benelux political union.

That it was a Eurosceptic policy that has led inevitably to budget flows from the rich Western European countries to the development of the poorer Eastern European countries and the inevitable flow of workers in the opposite direction is ironic, but also instructive; if we do not fully get involved in the decision-making at the heart of the European project our policies will come back to haunt us.

Another forgotten detail of European history is that when Margaret Thatcher made her famous No, No, No” speech in Parliament, it was in part against the suggestion of the then European Commission president, Jacques Delores, of making the European Parliament more central to the decision-making process in Europe.

Our approach to Europe has contributed to the European Parliament never being given the rights it should have as the elected body in a democratic organisation. This political inertia, born from our insecurity, now gives a truth to the Brexit arguments of the European organisations as being “undemocratic”.

The above could be answered by the Eurosceptic, quite rightly with a, well this just shows that we are not invested as a nation and we are better off out of Europe”. 

It is a strong argument, and may ultimately be the way we go. The only counter is to go back and understand why the institutions of the European Union were formed in the first place and how, more than ever, in their foundation we find a good reason for staying and playing our part.

The EU was formed from the blood of two world wars.

After the tragedy of the First World War when the mantra of the survivors was “never again” to a Second World War only 20 years later it was clear that a new idea was needed to bind together the European states uniquely sitting so cluttered together and at each others’ throats.

The EU was an idea to bind, economically, legally and politically, those nations together so that they were less likely to kill each other. And for 60 years it worked well for those countries in the EU, if not for all of Europe as the crisis following the breakdown of Yugoslavia testifies.

Then came the great financial crash of 2008, which laid bare the fault lines of a fatally ill-designed monetary union of countries who were not similarly close fiscally.

What is left is a mess, a desperate situation of failed economies, tragically high unemployment and the rise of neo-fascist parties with more than a passing resemblance to the 1930s.

It would be arrogant of us not to learn the lesson of the past and even more arrogant to believe that we can sit in splendid isolation from Europe.  The history of the last 2000 years, let alone the last 100 years, makes that clear.

In 2002 Roger Helmer, then a Conservative MEP who later went to UKIP, gave the reasons for the Conservative policy of enlargement of the EU.

He stated the: 

“Tory policy on enlargement is clear. We are in favour of it, for three reasons. First, we owe a moral debt to the countries of central and eastern Europe, which were allowed to fall under the pall of communism after the second world war. Second, by entrenching democracy and the rule of law in Eastern Europe, we ensure stability and security for the future. Third, an extra hundred million people in our single market may be a short-term liability, but long term will contribute to growth and prosperity.”

His reasoning seems to assert why keeping the faith in Europe is key.

Further, from climate change to the refugee crisis to tax evasion scandal the great problems we face as a nation are no longer national concerns but supranational in their essence, surely we need to be part of one of the most economically powerful geo-political organisation in the world to have an effective voice?

So, we need to say “yes” to the EU, but an EU where we stand central and ready to remould to provide greater accountability and democracy.

Something that has resonance across Europe as the foundation of organisation diem25 testifies.

There are also lessons to be learnt from the Scottish referendum where the lack of a positive narrative for the union almost lead to a break up.

In the far closer to call  EU referendum the current lack of a positive argument is what academics are labelling the  “enthusiasm gap”, which may lead to a Brexit even when the majority of people may want to stay in the union.

We are again living in troubled times: history warns us that this is not the time to walk away. It is time to grow up, stop being the sulking teenager of Europe, and become the dynamic, responsible and participating adult member of Europe that the UK and Europe needs.

Ranjit Sidhu is Director and Founder of SiD, Statistics into Decisions ( and blogs on tumblr here

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12 Responses to “It is time for the UK to stop being the sulking teenager of Europe”

  1. Bobby says:

    What is the ‘positive narrative’ for our membership of the EU?

    The narrative is too scary for Remain to talk about, because the trajectory of the EU is towards a federal state in which the UK’s institutions will be subservient. We will no longer be a nation. We will be ruled by unelected commissars. This is already happening, and our supreme court is no longer supreme over us.

    Even the ‘positive narrative’ is that ‘we stay in and reform it’. In other words, even the positive narrative says the EU is bad and heading in the wrong direction. Not inspiring, is it? And there is no chance of reform, because the EU knows nothing other than to subsume us all in a super-state, and destroy our sovereignty ultimately.

    So all Remain has is the boogie man, and frightening the people it says it cares for.

    You know, that may not work this time. Because people see where this is heading. And all the lies in the world aren’t going to obscure that.

  2. john says:

    `So, we need to say “yes” to the EU, but an EU where we stand central and ready to remould to provide greater accountability and democracy.`

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way for this to happen is to tell every pollster that you’re voting no and if there’s no hysterical headless chickens move on the part of Juncker/Merkel then the best thing is to vote no. It’s the only language they understand.

  3. Dissenfranchised says:

    I’m afraid that the writer of the piece above has no idea what he is talking about.

    The EU project was always set up to ignore national democracy and subsume it to EU supreme decision making.
    To this end the EU’s progress is dependent on a series of “beneficial crises” – create the problems, and have the solutions ready and waiting; usually at the cost of national suffrage and civil liberties.

    “Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”

    ― Jean Monnet

  4. Tafia says:

    I was reading some figures earlier about voter profiles in regards to the IN/OUT vote.

    The less you earn, the more likely you are to vote for LEAVE, with the biggest concentration of LEAVE being in those earning under £20K gross before in-work benefits – which is a large part of Labour’s core vote. Likewise pensioners are more likely to vote LEAVE as are social housing tenants and people on social housing waiting lists – again both groups are supposedly Labour’s core vote. Union members are apparently more likely to vote LEAVE as well.

    Here in Wales – which surprisingly is leaning more to LEAVE, areas that are supposedly Labour heartlands, such as the Valleys, are staunchly for LEAVE. (I live in a constituency where Plaid and Labour account for 80% of the vote, yet it will vote LEAVE quite overwhelmingly)

    Also Project Fear is largely being met by the public with open derision even amongst the REMAIN voters.

    So is Labour representing the wishes of it’s core vote? Apparently not. And remember what happened when Labour was out of step with it’s core vote north of the border in IndyRef? Personally I think this referendum is more likely to split the tories at PCP/CCP level than Labour, but way way more likely to alienate Labour’s working class core vote than the Tories core vote.

  5. ad says:

    So, we need to say “yes” to the EU, but an EU where we stand central and ready to remould to provide greater accountability and democracy.

    We don’t have the power to. We can stay or leave, we certainly can’t dictate to it. There are a couple of dozen countries in the EU – what gives you the impression that we can somehow force them all to do what we want?

  6. Mr Akira Origami says:

    The sulking teenager is being told by his parents: ” If we knew the consequences of joinging the EU really were, we would never have joined. Sorry but we gave your independence away. I know the Germans messed up Europe twice before, but hey!….third time lucky!”

    Sometimes teenagers have a justification in rebelling against their parents.

  7. David Walker says:

    The establishment tells us that the European Union is crap, but there is nothing we can do about it. When you’ve never even been asked if you wanted to join in the first place, who is going to be happy about that?

    Today, Angela Eagle is telling us that a Brexit would mean ‘we would be in the queue behind the big trading blocs to negotiate treaties with India and any other developing countries we want.’

    A queue? Does she see us sheepishly sitting in some kind of metaphorical foyer, while a tight-lipped receptionist tells us that India is rather busy today and could we perhaps put something in writing and leave it with her?

    I’m no fan of Gove, but he is right. The public are being treated like children.

  8. paul barker says:

    This fits perfectly with what I have been feeling, if Remains wins I would love The UK to actually join The EU, ie take part with enthusiasm, try to lead as we would with any organisation. However, I am a Libdem so I would feel that, there doesnt seem to be much enthusiasm in Labour ranks. I know most of the other comments are by UKIP trolls but theres nothing to stop real Labour voices saying what they think.

  9. Taylor says:

    The EU’s subversion of democratic accountability at national level is not a bug, it is a feature. What the designers of the European Coal & Steel Community took from the three wars of aggressive by Germany on France was that industrialists could and would ‘buy’ Germany’s democracy and tilt it towards war. Hence it was imperative that crucial decisions and industries must be ‘rescued’ from national oversight.

    From Germany’s point of view (and the US), the advantage of joining was that it would allow Alfried Krupp back into business by over-riding Germany’s post-Nuremberg trials constitutional ban on him having anything to do with the steel business. For the US, that meant Krupp could help re-arm the West for the Cold War. This could only be done if some way could be found to over-ride Germany’s national laws.

    So the ‘democratic deficit’ was there, quite deliberately, at the birth, and has widened ever since.

    If you believe in democratic accountability, there is simply no alternative to exiting the EU institutions.

  10. Lizzy Salander says:

    If anyone is interested in the EU and especially Sweden, check out Ingrid Carlqvist:

  11. Ranjit Sidhu says:

    Thanks you for your comments,

    Hi Bobby, I think the “positive narrative” is one of reforming the EU so that the law are made democratically, i.e they the European Parliament gets a say and there is accountability i.e. an elected executive. I would add that there are clearly mandated boundaries to the organisations scope. Difficult, but no impossible, I would recommend looking as diem25 – link in the article.

    Disenfranchised, I strongly am against fatalism, i.e things are as they are, The UK is a powerful strong country and if it tried would be able to create change in the organisation.

    hi Tafia, I agree with the negativity of the remain campaign may backfire – as someone who had front seat at the Scottish referendum I saw what a negative narrative can do and ultimately it is a positive narrative that people resend to.

    Hi David, I agree with you, I think the debate is missing the content and is just focusing on trade in some crazy prediction game, when the future is by it’s nature unpredictable. there is something bigger involved, in my opinion.

    thanks Paul

    hi Taylor, thanks for your comment and do agree with part of it, but would disagree with the fatalism part – see above.

    Thanks again all

  12. Mr Akira Origami says:

    @ LIbdem trolls

    ” I would love The UK to actually join The EU, ie take part with enthusiasm, try to lead as we would with any organisation”

    Not UKIP trolls but Ex-Labour UKIP trolls

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