Leading, not Leaving, Europe

EDINBURGH – Can the United Kingdom ever reconcile itself to being part of Europe? If recent British newspaper headlines about the June 23 referendum on continued European Union membership are any guide, the answer appears to be a decisive “no.”

Proponents of leaving the EU have campaigned on fear of runaway immigration and a cascade of purported dangers – whether delivered by boat or bomb – to the British way of life. Their opponents, who want the UK to remain part of Europe, highlight another fear: the loss of jobs that are dependent on European trade.

The nonstop sloganeering around these platforms has exposed conflicting worldviews. The rhetoric of the “Leave” supporters conjures up the spirit of Dunkirk in 1940 – a nation standing alone, impervious to invading armadas and armies, and always fiercely independent of Europe.

In theory, the “Remain” campaign stands for a different Britain: outward-looking, engaged, and internationally minded. But the Conservative Party is bitterly divided on the issue, and many of its most prominent spokesmen have wilted under fire from a hostile Euroskeptic media. As a result, they often seem to be advocating for a half-in, half-out relationship with Europe – for a Britain that is semi-detached, rather than fully engaged. A positive, principled, and progressive case for British membership in the EU has yet to be made.