10 – 16 June issue
A special issue on Britain in Europe
Guest editor: Gordon Brown
Amartya Sen Mary McAleese Kofi Annan
Ban Ki-moon Rowan Williams Enda Kenny
Linda Colley Kathy Lette Armando Iannucci
Stephen Hawking Tom Stoppard Piers Morgan
Tim Berners-Lee Michael Sandel Emma Rothschild
Rory Bremner Helena Kennedy Doreen Lawrence
Roddy Doyle Ian Rankin Alexander McCall Smith
Lionel Shriver Howard Jacobson Philip Pullman
Jonathan Coe Paul Nurse Julie Burchill
Alison McGovern Eddie Izzard and many more. . .
Highlights from the issue:
- Gordon Brown: My positive manifesto for Britain to lead – not leave – Europe.
- Appeals from Ireland to the UK from Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the former president Mary McAleese: Why Britain must be at the forefront of Europe’s development.
- Amartya Sen: The Brexit proposal springs from panic and would damage more than the economy.
- The former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan: The EU is a success and the envy of the world. It needs reform, not rejection.
- Piers Morgan’s Diary: Can England win the Euros? There’s more chance of me becoming the archbishop of Canterbury.
- Rowan Williams: The best way for Britain to be a force for good in the world is to work together.
- What does Europe mean to you? Insight from Jude Kelly, Melvyn Bragg, Michael Morpurgo, Tom Holland and other writers, activists and public figures.
- Julie Burchill: Anyone but an ostrich with a lobotomy can see that the EU is a pity party.
- The Long View: The historians Linda Colley and Emma Rothschild argue that Britain has always been at its best when looking outwards.
- Armando Iannucci: How politics killed satire.
- The NS Interview: The philosopher Michael Sandel on why he understands the desire for Brexit.
- Stephen Hawking, Tim Berners-Lee and Paul Nurse on why science and tech advances are easier in the EU.
- From Roddy Doyle to Tom Stoppard, friends of the NS share their favourite European novels.
- Notebook: Rory Bremner on why Jeremy Corbyn is a “Trojan donkey”, and on the Brexit threat to the BBC and the NHS.
- Mark Mazower on Europe’s history wars.
- The NS Poem: “Stone Love (for Tracey Emin)” by Carol Ann Duffy.
Britain in Europe: A New Statesman special issue.
During the referendum campaign, the debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union has been anything but edifying. Sober consideration of our international obligations, a reappraisal of Britain’s place in the world, discussion of important concerns such as the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and our border with Ireland – all of these have been too often sidelined in favour of overblown rhetoric about mass migration, scare stories from both sides and the latest instalment in the Conservative Party’s collective psychodrama. This week’s New Statesman aims to redress that balance and elevate the tone by bringing together Nobel laureates, leading international thinkers, statesmen and historians (as well as a few comedians) to explore the multiple dimensions of what Britain’s choice on 23 June will mean.
In recent years, we have published a series of guest-edited issues. Our collaborators have included Rowan Williams (when he was archbishop of Canterbury), Richard Dawkins (who conducted the last ever interview with Christopher Hitchens), Ai Weiwei (then under house arrest in Beijing) and Russell Brand. Now, we have asked Gordon Brown to guest-edit a special NS on Britain in Europe, because of his history of serious intellectual engagement with constitutional affairs. He makes an unashamedly progressive case for our continued membership of the EU (we will give our final view next week) and he is joined in our pages by Amartya Sen, Linda Colley, Tim Berners-Lee, Michael Sandel, Enda Kenny, Stephen Hawking, Mark Mazower, Ban Ki-moon and many others. We hope you enjoy the issue.
Gordon Brown: Guest editor’s introduction.
With the EU referendum just two weeks away, Gordon Brown introduces a special issue of the New Statesman exploring the many dimensions of Britain’s place in Europe. The former prime minister presents his positive agenda for Britain remaining in, and leading, the European Union – and argues that “fear should never be the answer to change”:
Britain’s connection to mainland Europe is not defined by geography alone – by white cliffs that can be spotted on a clear day from not-so-distant shores – but by shared needs, mutual interests and common values that become ever more important in an increasingly interdependent world. The peace of Europe – a continent at war in every century except ours – is today held together not at the barrel of a gun nor by some uneasy ceasefire but through an agreed approach to freedom, democracy and the rule of law, based on the British-inspired European Convention on Human Rights.
Together, the countries of the European Union have breathlessly lapped the United States on generation-defining issues. Each of the EU’s 28 member states has abolished capital punishment, tightened gun control laws and championed human rights in areas – from the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the International Criminal Court – where America has hesitated. We are united by a belief that foreign policy is not just an exercise in protecting interests but also about advancing ideals. And Europe is the only continent that has a marketplace underpinned by social and economic rights and a commitment to economic success and social justice advancing together. But now this set of beliefs is under fire.
Across Europe, millions of people feel threatened by globalisation. Many sense that power resides everywhere they are not and look for someone or something to protect, insulate or shelter them from wave after crushing wave of global change. The roots of this sentiment are often economic – to be found in the greatest industrial transformation and occupational reshuffle since the Industrial Revolution. Yet cultural concerns have come to occupy centre stage, from worries that we have lost control of our borders to anxieties that our country is not what it used to be. In turn, this has led to the rise of a wide range of protectionist, nationalist and anti-immigrant parties, united by an anti-globalisation theme. Everywhere from Austria – where the two major mainstream parties recently received just 22 per cent of the vote – to the United Kingdom, there is a call “to bring control back home”.
Fear should never be the answer to change. We live in a world where – from pollution and pandemics to financial instability and terrorism – we are confronted by cross-border problems unyielding to national solutions. The answer [. . .] is to manage globalisation in the interests of people.
[. . .]
But our continental future is about more than a set of policy initiatives. While, so far, the referendum debate has lacked generosity of spirit and humour . . . 23 June should be an optimistic, defining moment in our country’s history.
In 1886, Alfred Tennyson wrote one of his last poems, “Locksley Hall – Sixty Years After”, in which he described a world in ruins: “Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! Who can tell how all will end!” This brooding uncertainty did not sit well with the then prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who was moved to do what few politicians have ever done – he wrote an article for the premier UK literary magazine Nineteenth Century. There he reminded Tennyson of the sentiment of his first “Locksley Hall” poem, written six decades earlier: “When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;/Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.”
The referendum offers the choice between succumbing to Tennyson’s later, jaundiced view or embracing his earlier hopefulness. While history makes clear that no union is perfect, the power of co-operation easily trumps – if this is now the right verb – the costs and futility of insularity or isolation. Our great island nation is not great because it stands alone but because it stands tall. And while it is natural to weep for the Europe that is – and to be fearful of “how all will end” – we should be unafraid to articulate a better vision of Europe for the future.
Amartya Sen: Shadows of war.
In an essay for the issue, the Nobel Prize-winner in economics Amartya Sen argues that the Brexit proposal springs from panic. Brexit would certainly be terrible news for Britain’s economy, he writes, but it carries an even greater threat:
It cannot be said that the European Union is doing particularly well at this time. Its economic performance has been mostly terrible, with high unemployment and low economic expansion, and the political union itself is showing many signs of fragility. It is not hard to understand the temptation of many in Britain to call it a day and “go home”. And yet it would be a huge mistake for Britain to leave the EU. The losses would be great, and the gains quite puny. And the “home” to go back to no longer exists in the way it did when Britannia ruled the waves.
We live in a thoroughly interdependent world, nowhere more so than in Europe. The contemporary prosperity of Europe – and elsewhere, too – draws on extensive use of economic interconnections. While the unacceptable poverty and inequality that persist in much of the world, including Britain, certainly call for better-thought-out public engagement, the problems can be addressed better without getting isolated from the largest economy next door. The remarkable joint statement aired recently, by a surprisingly large number of British economists, of many different schools, that Brexit would be an enormous economic folly, reflects an appreciation of this glaring reality. Apart from trade and economic exchange with Europe itself, Britain is currently included in a large number of global agreements as a part of the European Union. Britain can do a lot – for itself and for Europe – to correct some of the big mistakes of European economic policies.
The Brexit-wallahs, if I may call the enthusiasts that (without, I hasten to add, any disrespect), sometimes respond to concerns of the kind I have been expressing with the reply that Britain can surely retain the economic interconnections with Europe, and through Europe, even without being in the European Union. “Isn’t that what Norway largely did?” Norway has certainly done well, and deserves credit for it. But the analogy does not really work, not just because Britain is a huge economy in a way Norway is not, but much more importantly because quitting is not at all the same thing as not joining. Britain’s extensive economic ties with Europe, and a great many EU trade agreements that go beyond Europe in the multilateral global economy, are well established now and disentanglement would be a very costly process – a challenge that Norway did not have to face.
But perhaps most importantly, it must be recognised that quitting is a big message to send to Europe and to the world: a message that Britain wants to move away from Europe. As four decades of economic studies have shown, signals can be dramatically important for economic relations. Conclusions will certainly be drawn on how dependable and friendly Britain can be taken to be. A jilted partner has more reason for angst than an unapproached suitor.
Appeals from Ireland: Enda Kenny and Mary McAleese.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, explains that for the sake of peace and jobs, the EU that Ireland most wants has the UK at its forefront:
Our desire to see the UK remain in the EU is based on four main concerns: Northern Ireland; the economy; the Common Travel Area; and the future of the EU itself.
I firmly believe that our common membership of the EU provided an important backdrop to the Irish and UK governments working together to secure peace in Northern Ireland. The EU itself has played a very constructive role in fostering that peace and has provided a framework for co-operation – whether between north and south, east and west, or between unionists and nationalists. European Union funding provides an uncontested setting in which the two traditions can work together.
Funding programmes from the EU will provide almost €3bn in the six years to 2020. Such funding will drive new investment in infrastructure, research and innovation that is supporting a transition in the Northern Ireland economy and creating sustainable jobs.
Ireland also wants the UK to remain in order to sustain and enhance our mutual economic growth. Research identifies Ireland as the member state that will experience most negative impacts from a British exit from the European Union, in economic terms. Most credible assessments conclude that in a Leave scenario, UK GDP could decline by between 1 and 5 per cent. Given the close ties between our two economies, such a decline could have a direct effect on Irish growth; our Economic and Social Research Institute has estimated that, for every 1 per cent decrease in UK GDP, Ireland could experience a 0.3 per cent decrease.
[. . .]
It is my hope that a re-energised UK will once again take its seat at the able as an important contributor to policy formation. With the UK’s help we can expedite the EU’s competitiveness improvements, pushing through deregulatory and pro-competition single-market measures while completing trade agreements with global partners. Such measures are vital to ensuring that Irish and UK businesses alike remain well placed to operate and compete in an increasingly globalised economy. More broadly, a UK withdrawal would weaken the EU in substance and reputationally at a time of serious challenges.
Ireland will remain a committed member of the European Union, irrespective of the referendum outcome. But there is no doubt that the Union we most want to see is one with the UK in it.
The former Irish president Mary McAleese argues that the European Union has been crucial to the development of good relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland:
Is the European Union perfect? Not at all. Is it better than anything previously devised to secure peace, partnership and prosperity? It most assuredly is. Has it structures ordered to its own reform and development? Yes, it has. It has 28 guiding hands, among them the powerful and influential hand of the United Kingdom.
The first half of the 20th century in Europe was littered with the bodies of the millions who died because of the pull of militant politics. The second half was redeemed by the political imagination that grew the idea of a Europe of nations working with one another and not against one another. We are still in the opening chapters of the greatest adventure in collaborative democracy in world history. We have absorbed 28 member states in a relatively short period of time, each very distinctive, each determined to lose none of its essence and identity around the Union table, but each prepared to exercise (not compromise) its sovereignty in a way that prepares a decent future for all of Europe’s children.
The UK is an important pillar of that future. It has strong views on Europe now and on what it could become. It has an experienced and persuasive voice, powerful enough to make a visible impact on the shape and trajectory of the Union in the century ahead. The Brexit alternative is for the UK to sit alone on the sidelines, in a capricious world, trying to construct a riotous host of essential new trade and political relationships while every one of its neighbours moves on – in that same capricious world, but within the established framework of the EU, thrashing out the issues that allow us to follow through on the visionary purpose of securing peace and prosperity through partnership.
Fundamentally, Brexiters are asking the voters to take a monumental gamble. They have failed to persuade me. I will be voting Remain to ensure the continuation of the contemporary, successful relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Kofi Annan: The EU needs reform, not rejection.
Making his first intervention in the EU referendum debate, the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan urges Britain to remain in a union that is the “envy of the world”:
The European house is not yet fully built, and yet crises, wars and globalisation have already battered its unfinished structures and institutions. I would guess that most Europeans share this diagnosis but differ on how to move forward. One segment of the population wants to leave the house behind, tear down the walls and revert to a pre-EU situation. The other segment wants to reform, where reform is needed, and give the construct the stability and agility it needs to deal with the crises facing it, along with other challenges such as climate change, violent extremism or inequality.
It is regrettable that the refugee crisis, which should have united Europe, has instead divided it. A common European approach would have made the crisis eminently solvable. A community of 500 million people could have absorbed one to two million refugees. Smaller and less prosperous nations have done much more.
The route Europe chooses is up to its citizens but it is evident that big challenges cannot be dealt with by one country alone.
The EU is the envy of much of the world. Other regions are striving to make similar progress, be it the African Union, the Association of South-East Asian Nations or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Europe needed two world wars to mobilise the political will necessary to imagine a different future for itself. Today it inspires other parts of the world which also see the benefits of co-operation and collaboration over competition and fragmentation.
Linda Colley: An island, but not in isolation.
Linda Colley, the award-winning historian and author of Britons, takes the long view and observes that Britain has always been at its best when looking outwards:
Given that, in these and countless other ways, the British past has been so intermingled with and has occurred in tandem with the experiences of other Europeans, why has the binary notion of “Britain and Europe” become so pervasive in recent decades?
Part of the answer is war. Britain’s particular experience of the Second World War – its freedom from invasion and its emergence on the winning side – contributed to a sense of distinction from the Continent, and made many of its people and politicians react rather differently to post-1945 experiments for European realignment from those continental Europeans who had experienced defeat and invasion. And because the Second World War was one of the last occasions on which Britain played a central role in world history, it has remained an iconic, perhaps overly iconic, ingredient of popular culture and mythologies.
At the same time – and like other relatively cosseted peoples in the West – British civilians have become blissfully forgetful about the prospect of military conflict. Yet, historically, the comparative peace that western Europe has enjoyed since 1945 is an aberration. Even more than economic matters, this seems to me the prime reason why Britain needs to keep its close Europeans relations in good repair and strengthen them.
[. . .]
In some respects, current Euroscepticism only underlines just how European Britons are. In many other parts of Europe, too, especially at blue-collar level, and especially on the political right, there has been a marked rise in recent years in dissatisfaction with the EU, and a similar rise in nativist passions.
This resurgent nativism has been caused in general by unhappiness about immigration and globalisation. But British Euroscepticism and nativism also have more specific roots. Since 1945, this polity has experienced both huge change and a rapid contraction in global reach. Many people have been left feeling disoriented and bereft and in need of an energising fresh start. Such responses easily feed into Brexit.
There is consequently a need for new, imaginative stories of British collective and international purpose and identity. Just as – despite last year’s referendum on Scottish independence – the Union will not survive in a happy state unless its rationale and workings can be re-envisioned and relegitimised, so, by the same token, even if Remain triumphs on 23 June this will hardly be enough. Men and women do not live by bread alone. They also need sustaining ideas. If we do remain, we need better (and better-expressed) ideas, not about “Britain and Europe”, but rather about Britain engaging more constructively in Europe.
Piers Morgan’s Diary.
In this week’s Diary, the former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan declares England’s chances of winning the Euros are nil, explains his reluctant admiration for Donald Trump and suggests that nobody really knows what they are talking about in the EU debate:
When I won Donald Trump’s US Celebrity Apprentice show in 2008, he called me “vicious, arrogant, obnoxious, possibly evil”. Which may be true but must also represent the purest illustration of irony ever uttered. Appearances can be deceptive, though. I’ve known Trump for a decade and have found him to be as loyal to his friends as he is vengeful to his enemies. He’s also razor-smart, disarmingly charming, ridiculously competitive and a brilliant businessman. So I’ve been less surprised than most by his success so far in the US presidential race.
Yes, he’s divisive, polarising, controversial and occasionally downright offensive. Yet many Americans of all ages, colours and creeds absolutely love him, as I’ve witnessed at first hand when we’ve walked the streets of New York together. Trump, to them, is the walking, talking, preening, cocky, chest-thumping embodiment of the American dream – a billionaire who by his own “humble” admission has spent his entire life living up to the title of his bestselling book Think Big and Kick Ass.
Beneath all the inflammatory bluster, though, he’s a skilled dealmaker trying to close the two biggest deals of his life: first, the Republican nomination, which he’s all but wrapped up. Second, the presidency itself. Love him or loathe him, the way Trump has destroyed all his rivals in this race so far is remarkable and has shaken both the Washington elite and the Republican Party to their very foundations. I imagine it’s also keeping Hillary Clinton up at night, as she tries to figure out how on earth to stop him.
Trumping his rivals
When I met Trump in New York recently, he was relaxed, focused and chillingly confident. He doesn’t just think he’s going to win, he has an absolutely unshakeable conviction that he will. It’s that extraordinary self-belief, fuelled by his hugely popular campaign pledge to “Make America Great Again” that has propelled Trump from 200/1 rank outsider to a guy who may well pull off the political shock of all time come November.
I wouldn’t personally vote for him even if I could, not least because of his enthusiastic support for the NRA gun lobby. But it’s not hard to see why Trump’s straight-talking, no-nonsense style is so appealing to many Americans numbed by the professorial, lead-from-behind, “steady-as-we-go” Barack Obama. And I believe that, like with all dealmakers, Trump’s bark will turn out to be a lot scarier than his bite. “See you at the White House,” he chuckled when we said goodbye. President Trump? Stranger things have happened. Just ask Jeremy Corbyn.
Questions for Boris
If there’s one thing even more unnerving to a Briton than the words “President Donald Trump” it is surely “Prime Minister Boris Johnson”. Yet we are now just three weeks away from perhaps having to consider that unthinkable scenario, too.
One of my more enlightening hobbies is to go back over old interviews I’ve conducted with major public figures to see what they said before they really hit the big time and then clam up. In June 2007, Boris was still a lowly MP, David Cameron was leader of the opposition, and this magazine’s guest editor was running the country.
“Do you think you could be prime minister one day?” I asked Boris during a prescient interview that month for GQ. “I think it’s highly unlikely,” he smirked. “That’s bollocks,” I replied. “You do think you can be, don’t you? Is there any reason why you shouldn’t be?” He obfuscated. “What, biological? Intellectual? Moral? Aesthetic?”
I pressed. “Do you think this country would ever elect a buffoon as prime minister?” Boris smirked again. “Have I over-buffooned it? Hmmmm. I think it’s very difficult to be both, I agree. Mind you, there have been quite a few prime ministers who’ve done a pretty good job of it! Roy Jenkins says in his Churchill biography that many great men have an element of comicality about them.”
As for his political motivation, Boris displayed due shameless comicality: “Disraeli was once asked why people went to the House of Commons,” he opined, “and he said, ‘We do it for fame.’ And Achilles said that fame or the desire to be known is not, in itself, necessarily disreputable. He said he was doing it all for the glory of song and immortality.” Yet there is one thing even Boris won’t sacrifice in his fame-hungry charge for immortal power. “You can be prime minister but you have to give up sex. Would you take the deal?” I asked. He looked absolutely horrified. “NO!”
Come off it
On the subject of unlikely victories, can England win the Euros? No. There’s more chance of me becoming archbishop of Canterbury. Germany or France will win it. By all means go along with the usual overinflated and illogical hype that the trophy’s “coming home”. Just remember that no international football trophy has actually “come home” since 1966 – when I was 15 months old.
No one knows
Am I “In”, “Out” or “Shake It All About”? Unfortunately, because of my Good Morning Britain “news” presenter status, I can’t tell you until after 23 June. Not that I have great form in this arena. As Daily Mirror editor, I campaigned for Britain to join the euro, believing it would be a disaster if we didn’t. I came to this belief after lobbying from some of the country’s finest financial and political minds. They were all wrong. So I’d view any “certainties” about this EU debate with great scepticism. Nobody really knows.
What does Europe mean to you?
We asked a series of public figures to share their views on the European project. Stephen Hawking, Jude Kelly, Melvyn Bragg, Kathy Lette, the War Horse author, Michael Morpurgo, Julie Burchill, and Tom Holland were among those who contributed:
Gone are the days when we could stand on our own, against the world. We need to be part of a larger group of nations, both for our security and for our trade. The possibility of our leaving the EU has already led to a sharp fall in the pound, because the markets judge that it will damage our economy.
There are two obvious reasons why we should stay in. The first is that Europe promotes mobility of people. The free movement of scientists is as important for science as free trade is for market economics. More importantly, at the level of research, the exchange of people enables skills to transfer more quickly, and brings new people with different ideas, derived from their different backgrounds. We now recruit many of our best researchers from continental Europe, including younger ones who have obtained EU grants and have chosen to move with them here. Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science and also encourages the best scientists elsewhere to come here.
The other reason is financial. Investment in science is as important for the long-term prosperity and security of the UK as investment in infrastructure projects, farming or manufacturing. The European Research Council has given large grants to UK institutions, either to foster or to promote exchanges. Increased funding has raised greatly the level of European science as a whole and of the UK in particular, because we have a competitive edge.
Switzerland pays into the EU and was a popular destination for young scientists. It now has limited access to EU funds because it voted to restrict the free movement of workers, and is desperately trying to find alternative ways to attract young talent.
If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities.
I have lived all my 72 years in peace, and in freedom, surely the greatest gift handed down to us by our forebears. After centuries of conflict, after the two most devastating wars ever, the nation states of Europe finally, finally, undertook that they should never again allow themselves to be plunged into war. A European community, a European union, must be created to ensure that another war between European nations would never happen. It was, in effect, a declaration of peace and reconciliation.
Close ties of trade were devised, cherished freedoms enshrined – all this to lead, it was hoped, to greater interdependence, trust, understanding and friendship between the peoples of Europe. So it happened.
As a result of this, I have lived in peace; my children, too, and my grandchildren. It has been the longest period of peace Europe has ever known.
Is this European union perfect? No. Is the bureaucracy so often absurd and wasteful? Yes. Does it have the democratic integrity it should have? No. But, does it, has it, helped to keep the peace? Most certainly. We travel freely in and out of Europe. We study at one another’s universities. We trade massively. We work in each other’s countries. Increasingly, we speak one another’s languages, know and love the literature and cinema and art and food of others, and we marry one another often, and have European children!
In all the crass banter and bickering and bitterness of this debate, all predictions of our future, in or out of Europe, are little more than an exchange of damned lies and statistics. I, like so many, am simply bewildered and disappointed. This new Europe is the greatest project for peace, together with the United Nations, that mankind has ever created. I am part of that project and fiercely proud of it. We owe Europe so much, and they owe us, too. We are good together. We need each other, sustain one another, enrich one another.
So let us stay the course, live the dream, be who we are, and be European, too; embrace our place in this family of nations and help to make it ever more harmonious.
What I loved most about moving to London from Sydney, 28 years ago, is your proximity to Europe. Antipodeans have to travel for days, enduring nerve-jangling jet lag, just for a little taste of what’s right on your doorstep. Now, at a moment’s notice, I can pop off for a little light flirtation and frottage in Paris, some pasta in Pisa or culture in Copenhagen. I’ve now been to so many concerts in Vienna I have post-traumatic Strauss disorder. Britain has also so improved since you’ve let in more Europeans. When I first moved to London, the food was so bad my intestines were no longer on speaking terms with my tonsils. Spotted dick (which sounds like something you’d contract in Soho), toad-in-the-hole (ditto), soggy sandwiches, stale scones . . . But now you can dine on paella, polenta, duck ragu, strudel, chicken paprika, kebabs, sacher, goulash, schnitzel, sauerbraten, moussaka, all on the high street. So, for the sake of our taste buds alone, I hope Britain doesn’t undergo a Europe-ectomy.
The beauty of Europe will always be spoiled for me by the type of people who love Europe, and, more importantly, want to be seen to love Europe. People Who Love Europe may fondly imagine themselves to be the repository of French savoir faire, Italian passion and Scandi egalitarianism, but are generally a horribly recognisable English type of whom George Orwell said it best: “It is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman, and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings.”
Anyone but an ostrich with a lobotomy can see that the EU is a pity party, an autopsy and a wake for the European empire, all in one corrupt, corpulent package. It proves that the more you try to wipe out the harmless little ways in which people like to be different, the more they will grab frantically at potentially monstrous ways to assert their national identity: see the rise of the extreme nationalist parties all over our allegedly safe European home. We all have our own Europe of the imagination, gardens of the West that whirl for ever in their youthful pomp, from Ibiza rave to Viennese waltz. It’s when we seek to impose our idea of Europe on others that the trouble starts.
Rowan Williams on the end of self-interest.
The former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urges against voting Leave and argues that Brexit would limit the UK’s capacity to do good in the world:
In the event of Brexit, there is no clarity as to how the UK would or could continue to consolidate – and, indeed, lead – European policy on development in such ways. For those who believe that this role is to the credit of the UK, this should surely be a factor in thinking about the impact of a
At the practical level, a significant amount of international aid is delivered by multilateral arrangements with donor countries, which are far more efficient and effective than any bilateral processes. They allow for agreed priorities, greater transparency and a reduced risk of waste and duplication of work. At present, nearly 40 per cent of UK overseas aid works in this way, much of it managed in tandem with NGOs – bodies such as Christian Aid and Oxfam – to deliver aid that genuinely reduces dependency and helps to create long-term economic stability. For such work to continue, we need structures of co-operation that allow this kind of flexible and co-ordinated sourcing of help.
It might be said that none of this would be impossible in the event of a Leave vote: there are other collaborative vehicles, such as the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But it is the EU that is now the most significant partner in addressing many issues affecting vulnerable economies. And the sorts of partnerships I have just described have the accumulated experience of working together that makes for better delivery. The challenge to create new networks and structures is considerable, given that everyone seems to agree that Brexit would lead to a decade of structural uncertainties – in these as in many other areas.
So much of the EU debate has been about domestic concerns to do with our well-being and security. The reality is that those with the least financial and political stability in our world need as never before a confidence that wealthier nations will accept their responsibility – in a world where there are ultimately no merely local challenges – to nurture the economic security of the global neighbourhood. Do we honestly believe that a Leave vote will increase such confidence?
The greatest European novel.
In the Critics section of the issue, friends and contributors of the NS including Tom Stoppard, Howard Jacobson, Philip Pullman, Roddy Doyle and Jonathan Coe select their favourite European novel:
Le Grand Meaulnes (1913)
Anna Karenina? The Leopard? Radetzky March? With foreign fiction, I don’t strike out on my own. Recent, well-reviewed novels in translation usually get looked into and optimistically put aside for later. For present purposes, I’m going back to Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, which was a cultish book when I was pointed to it 45 years ago. I wouldn’t call it cultish now. Few NS readers won’t know that Meaulnes is a schoolboy grand in both stature and hero-worship.
The story is set deep in the French countryside and it aches with loss and yearning, for a lost place and a lost girl. The girl was taken from life: on 1 June 1905 Alain-Fournier, whose real name was Henri-Alban Fournier, fell for a girl he saw in the street. Frankly, he stalked her, though very unthreateningly. A few weeks later he saw her in the street again and they exchanged a few wistful words. She said, “What’s the good?” and disappeared “for ever”. They met again eight years later. She was married and his book was about to be published. If the novel were not romantic enough, a few facts make the rereading all the more poignant. In August 1914 Alain-Fournier was called up to the front. On 22 September he was reported missing in action; his body was not recovered until 1991. He was 27.
Journey to the End of the Night (1932)
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
I came late to Journey to the End of the Night, Céline’s brutal novel of the dissolution to which the First World War reduced humanity, and wonder whether I’d have been a different novelist had I been as hooked on him as a boy as I was on Dickens. This isn’t to say Dickens can’t be sulphurous, but it mattered to him to be loved, whereas Céline – in a manner that is all but impossible for an English writer – wishes his readers to hell.
Is it an affectation? Partly. Misanthropy is its own sort of showing-off. But French prose has take-it-or-leave-it contempt in its bloodstream – Rabelais, de Sade, Huysmans – and just because the savagery is exultant doesn’t mean there’s no truth in it. Triumphant delight in touching rock bottom is what gives the novel its “vital spice, so sordid and irrefutably alive”. Céline’s words. He knew what he was about: “Clowning villainy.” Deep into the night we go, laughing, affronted, noticing and smelling every detail of our dissolution, the language educated and common all at once, each sentence half drunk with loathing for the other. “To survive,” he wrote, “I needed lecherous tonics, drastic elixirs.” Journey to the End of the Night is just such an elixir.
Armando Iannucci: How politics killed satire.
In an uncharacteristically sober piece, Armando Iannucci reflects on an “alien and awful” political landscape beyond satire:
Every time a stupid political event happens – whenever a politician tweets a photo of one of his extremities, say, or just after a cabinet minister accidentally blocks out some words on a poster for a firm of Birmingham kilt designers so it looks like she’s standing under a sign saying “I’m a killer” – people write to me and suggest I bring back The Thick of It.
No. Absolutely not. I now find the political landscape so alien and awful that it’s hard to match the waves of cynicism it transmits on its own. David Cameron recently stood up in the Commons and berated Jeremy Corbyn for having a shadow cabinet too far-fetched “even for a script [of] The Thick of It”. I think his point was that the shadow agriculture secretary is a vegan, while Corbyn, a proud republican, has to call himself the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. It was tempting to tweet that Cameron has a Culture and Media Secretary who joked about closing the BBC, a housing minister who’s reducing public housing stock, a Justice Secretary who’s tasked with repealing the Human Rights Act, and a Health Secretary who can’t stand doctors and makes me sick. But why bother? When politicians do all the jokes, we begin to see how grim the real world is.
[. . .]
Rather than joke about it, I’d sooner urge people to change it. The move on compulsory academies proved how a government thought it could get away with something no one had agreed to: that it U-turned tells us how to respond. Petitioning, debate and protest have overturned moves on welfare and disability benefit cuts, education, tax credits and the BBC. It’s not always effective, but it does occasionally remind us of one important point: that the government’s popular majority is, at heart, fictional.
Rory Bremner’s Notebook.
The comedian Rory Bremner reflects on referendum “facts” and decides, on balance, that he would rather be a Mark Carney or a Barack Obama than a Jacob Rees-Mogg or a Marine Le Pen:
“We want our country back” is a constant Brexit refrain. Yet many of the things that make our country great – the BBC, the NHS, the Post Office – are most at risk not from the EU but from the largely pro-Brexit right wing of the Tory party, which wants to undermine the BBC, privatise the NHS and sign up to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would allow companies to sue our government if its policies impacted adversely on their profits.
Many of those pesky European regulations and directives, meanwhile, are designed to improve the quality of our air, beaches and animal welfare – improvements that our government often fights tooth and nail. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for instance, was held to account by the European Court of Justice after the campaign group ClientEarth complained that the air quality in 16 of our cities and regions – including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff – was unacceptably below EU standards on pollution.
The referendum campaign so far has been dominated by the battle between Conservatives. Invariably, it’s David Cameron v Boris Johnson; or George Osborne v Michael Gove; or IDS v . . . well, IDS. The other parties barely get a look-in. This is partly because Jeremy Corbyn is still unwilling or unable to make any impact. Each morning, surrounded by a scrum of reporters and news crews waiting to hear something – anything – he doesn’t use the opportunity and is instead bundled into a waiting people-carrier as if he were being taken off to appear in court.
In the battles to come, Labour supporters need a champion, not a conscientious objector. And Corbyn needs a strong phalanx of supporters around him to put out the message in the studios, just as Tony Blair could rely on John Reid, David Blunkett, Margaret Beckett or Peter Mandelson to fight his corner. What we hear of those inside Team Corbyn all too easily gives rise to the impression that he is a Trojan horse. Actually, make that a Trojan donkey.
Isla del Crime
I’m always bemused when Vote Leave states that EU immigrants put an untold strain on the NHS. It is the youngest, fittest migrants who come here to work on our farms and in our factories. Imagine if Britain were a haven for the EU’s pensioners and gangsters. It must feel like that for the Spanish, who for years have provided homes for our retired people and criminals (in some cases, both). To be fair, once they arrive in Spain, the Brits do their best to integrate. Do they set up British pubs, eat fish and chips, watch Premiership football on Sky and play bridge? No. They learn flamenco, eat paella, speak Spanish and quote Cervantes at length.
One fact to rule them all
Just as in the Scottish referendum, people insist that what they want are “facts”. It’s as if they’re waiting for one killer fact that will seal the argument. Yet there are any number of facts available, both for and against Brexit. Maybe they want a comparison website, where you can type in your circumstances and choose your supplier of government based on who offers the best deal. That’s the level at which many of the economic claims on both sides have been made: “Vote Remain and save £4,300!” or “Vote Leave and we’ll cut VAT on fuel!” (That tax was introduced, by the way, not by Europe but by the arch-Brexiteer Norman Lamont and reduced by Gordon Brown against Tory opposition.)
Ultimately, I believe that the decision is existential. What sort of people are we, and what sort of country do we want to live in? Are we outward-looking and co-operative, believing in the principle that we can achieve more by uniting across borders? Or are we angry, disillusioned with the EU project in general and immigration in particular? Am I Barack Obama or Marine Le Pen? Mark Carney or Jacob Rees-Mogg? Stephen Hawking or Chris Grayling? In a sense, this is our Hillary Clinton v Donald Trump moment. I know which I prefer.
The Chatham House director, Robin Niblett, on why “taking back control” is an empty slogan.
Editor’s Note: Jason Cowley on the huckster-in-chief Boris Johnson, the New Young Fogeys, and John Major’s antique diction.
Laurie Penny on voting Remain despite the EU’s failures.
Stephen Bush on the echoes of 1975 in the current debate.
View from the Balkans: Joji Sakurai – a Czech politician dreams of a libertarian microstate in Europe.
Craig Calhoun asks whether we are living in the age of the second Renaissance.
Erica Wagner travels 320 years through the mind of Annie Proulx in Barkskins.
Marina Benjamin explores a rich new wave of mental health memoirs.
Kate Mossman experiences a day in the life of Brix Smith Start.
Film: Ryan Gilbey reviews two new documentaries, Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next and Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea.
Television: Rachel Cooke finds tragedy in Reg on BBC1 and comedy in BBC2’s Mum.
Radio: Antonia Quirke picks up tuneful vibrations in a Tuscan marble quarry.
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Notes for editors
- The Britain in Europe issue (dated 10-16 June, cover price £4.95) will be on sale in London on Thursday 9 June and in the rest of the country from Friday 10 June: www.newstatesman.com/subscribe
- Previous guest editors of the New Statesman, the award-winning weekly politics and culture magazine, include: the artist Grayson Perry; Russell Brand, whose revolution-themed issue in 2013 caused a global internet sensation; the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, whose special issue won an Amnesty International UK award for human rights journalism; Richard Dawkins; Jemima Khan; and the former foreign secretary David Miliband.