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WILDING Peter

Peter Wilding is the Founder and Director of British Influence.

A basic message from Euro-sceptics in yesterday’s immigration debate is that Britain is a friendless victim of Europe and border control is just one of many policy areas where we are tied down by Brussels.  But yesterday, British Influence published its Scorecard – the first-ever report to judge whether the UK is a leader or a loser in Europe.  Amazingly, it finds that, far from being a loser, the UK leads in Europe and is “on track” to win up to 90 per cent of its policy goals.

Despite the UK’s aggressive tone and fast-and-loose attitude to allies, the report, compiled by a distinguished cross-party panel of experts, shows that Britain was successful last year in 18 policy areas, did well in 20 more but is failing only in four. It shows that, contrary to all received wisdom, the British people are citizens of a country which has the vision and allies to bring real change to the continent to suit our aims.

Two visions

This success is about far more than ministers battling red tape with red lines. It is about two visions competing for the future direction of the country.  The ‘leader’ vision sees Britain playing its part in a world of rule-making power blocs which will pit Europe and America against China and Russia in a battle to level playing fields and keep markets open to ensure global growth.  As our report shows, by pulling the available European levers of power, Britain does lead in political and economic reform on the continent and could strengthen Europe’s diplomatic muscle. Berlin supports completing the single market and Paris supports cooperation in defence and foreign policy. Washington supports both, wanting “a strong Britain in a strong Europe”. Allies abound. They all want London to be a vital player in this world.  Our polling says that the British people also long for the UK to stand tall and to show more of this type of leadership but “do not know anything at all about what we do”. They want David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to walk a patriotic walk.

But the devil has the best tunes, and an alternative ‘loser’ vision totally clouds this reality. Nigel Farage whips up anger at the loss of power in a country which has helped bring democracy, freedom and the rule of law to the entire continent of Europe since 1945. In his view, the UK is now the runt of the European pack ,forever powerless against Brussels’ meddling and hostile states. He blends isolationism with imperialism in a narrative which depends on pretending at the same time that the UK counts for nothing in Europe and something, somewhat sepia-edged, in the wider world.

With political leaders increasingly talking this talk, a destructive victim syndrome has developed in the British people. This is backed up by our YouGov polling which found:

  • Two thirds of voters (61 per cent) believe the UK has little or no influence and few if any friends.
  • Two-thirds (65 per cent) believe the EU, Germany and France call the shots, ignoring the UK.
  • Two-thirds (62 perc ent) believe that the UK’s aims are mostly or always rejected.
  • More than half (51 per cent) of voters for the main parties say that Britain could increase its clout if only we had allies.

Yet the fact is, as our report indicates, that the UK has great influence, runs Europe with Germany and France, has aims that are accepted widely and has the allies to prove it. Not for nothing was Britain named as the number one soft power nation in Monocle magazine. It’s just that we are not told.

A choice

Given the British people will soon make a once-in-a-lifetime choice between these visions, it is a scandal that their importance is completely lost on the British public. They would be proud to be part of Britain as a leader in Europe but, as far as they are concerned, Britain is a friendless loser. Our focus groups reveal that voters felt that Britain was “insignificant” had “lost its moral backbone” and was “losing against the Germans and the French” in Europe.

All this suggests that we are facing a political as well as a moral crisis. The failure to lead and inform the public of their country’s place in the world as Churchill and Thatcher sought to do has left an existential vacuum filled by a new poujadism. A sad picture is painted of a patriotic public more uncertain and hostile to the forces of globalisation whilst at the same time eager to channel their pride into practice.

Lost an Empire and in search of a role

Like a global grande dame, the UK has had two historic curtain calls since victory in the war. The Suez crisis ended the Empire in 1956, and the European referendum ended the Commonwealth as an effective force in 1975. The choice was then made for Europe.  After forty years, who could deny British influence has yielded massive results? As Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister, has said, “Europe is now an English-speaking power”. Its key achievements have been British led: the creation of the single market and the welcoming of the former communist states of eastern Europe. Today 75 percent of member states support the UK in its political and economic reform aims.  Numerous partners like the US, Japan and Australia and numerous companies such as Ford and Nissan says the UK should be leading, not leaving Europe.

But with a confused people, bewildered allies and discomforted companies, Britain is facing a third curtain call ending our power in Europe. If it was true that the UK had no influence in the councils of Europe leaving would be a reasonable step. But as Britain leads in Europe, leaving seems to a suicidal indulgence. As Janan Ganesh of the FT said in a sideswipe at a country adrift, “Britain has delusions of weakness not of grandeur.” The tragedy is that the public believe this delusion. What we need is a new patriotism where the people are guided by their leaders and informed by their press that Britain is a big player in Europe, wins its battles and keeps its friends.  Otherwise, as those friends said in a recent report: “reform would be in jeopardy especially if the UK, previously… Europe’s spiritual brother departs to an unknown geopolitical destination, significantly weakening its influence within the EU and the world.”

66 comments for: Peter Wilding: Britain can be a leader in Europe, not a loser

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