Charlotte Leslie is a member of the Health Select Committee and MP for Bristol North West. She is the Spectator’s Backbencher of the Year
“United wishes and Good Will Cannot overcome Brute Facts”, Winston Churchill once said. It is a wisdom that seems to have been buried over the last decade, and those audacious enough to suggest that brute facts still exist become vilified by the ever more aggressive proponents of the supremacy of ‘United Wishes and Good Will.’ Unsurprisingly, the practical consequences of this have not been good.
I had my fair share of this vilification when I was audacious enough to question the effects of a possibly large influx of people into the UK in the New Year.
I had signed an amendment to the Immigration Bill, which would extend the transitional controls of Romanians and Bulgarians for another five years. The simple point I was making was that that if there is a swift rise in population, with very different expectations of minimum-wage and labour-market from the resident population, it is worth considering whether our services and infrastructure can appropriately support this change, and what the social impact of this might be.
The predictable twitter-backlash began. I was racist, and (the more middle-class word for it) xenophobic. My explanations that a significant influx of any population, regardless of origin, would raise issues that merited exploring, gained no traction. Neither did raising the issue of whether we would have the infrastructure to meet these new-comers’ basic needs – such as school places for their children. No, this was not the realm of facts. And although I got congratulated in person, few publicly voiced agreement. Why? I suspect they were cowed into silence by the likely abuse they would receive. That should be of concern.
Sadly, it is those hurling accusations of racism at anyone trying to broach the facts of this sensitive subject, who fuel extremist groups. If people are not allowed to discuss facts in a sensible way, then some will end up discussing it not sensibly. As a result, those indiscriminately screaming abuse at any discussion about migration endanger those they claim to protect. This is a prime example of the consequences of believing that ‘United Wishes and Good-Will’ can over-come brute facts.
When Winston Churchill wrote those sage words, it was 1953. Europe was reeling from the Second World War. Germany was faced with coming to terms with its role in perhaps the darkest period in European history. European nations were beginning to come together to forge a union.
Now, looking back some 60 years later, the irony of the evolution of the European concept against Churchill’s warning rings bleakly clear. In a traumatised reaction to events, the European Community came to grasp ‘United Wishes’ and ‘Good Will’ to make sure nothing like this ever happened again. Brute facts, such as the flaws in unchecked freedom of movement between member states, the fundamental differences between nations, and the inevitable direction of large institutions and mass regulation, became subsumed by a desperately determined optimism.
Now, Churchill’s inconvenient brute facts have inevitably jutted through. Europe is now the slowest growing region in the world. If in trouble economically, democratically the faith of Europe’s people in the EU is historically low. Winston’s words now resonate for both Europe – and the UK.
Firstly, to Europe; it is sink or swim time. “Insanity” said Albert Einstein, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
On that measure, Europe’s lost the plot. Rolling out yet more regulation to homogenise fundamentally different countries is only going to sink the European ship further, which it cannot afford either economically, or in terms of building tensions in member states, socially. If it is to survive, Europe needs to change to become what I and many in this country could support: A Europe where each member state is the very best it can be, and where Europe is more than the sum of its parts.
Secondly, to us – particularly to those of us who are Euro-sceptic: The brute facts are that whether we are in or out of Europe, we need Europe to succeed.
Election-losing joke: Why is Europe like Hotel California? Because you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…
The unwelcome brute fact is that closing your eyes to the EU does not make Europe disappear. When I was three years old, I remember playing hide-and-seek, standing by the shed in full view and clenching my eyes tight shut. It didn’t make me, or my seekers, disappear… Neither, alas, does voting to be out of Europe make the threat that a floundering Europe poses to us disappear. Our economies are so intertwined that even if we jump off the sinking ship, it will drag us down as it sinks – maybe less than if we were still on board, but far better for us if the ship doesn’t sink at all.
That’s why, frustrating as it may be to those of us impatient for our say on Europe, brute facts dictate that before we have our referendum on Europe in 2017, we need to seize this historic chance to keep the ship from sinking. Then we can judge whether we abandon ship, or steer a newly forged vessel.
The Fresh Start Project has articulated what a successful Europe might look like, and the arguments that Britain has long been making about how Europe can gain strength through diversity are now resonating in other member states in a way that was previously unthinkable just a few years back. Brute Fact – change only happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. Europe’s pain is building and it badly needs a remedy. Britain has played a defining role for Europe before; it is time to do it again.