The fightback against Brexit should not only be about saving the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, it should also be about the country being more involved in Europe to get the most out of its membership. Two ways that the UK could get more from its membership of the EU would be joining the euro and Schengen.
Tony Blair was correct to criticize Brexit in a recent speech, but unfinished business from his own time in office as Prime Minister may have contributed to the leave result in the referendum of 23rd June 2016. This unfinished business was the United Kingdom’s failure to join the euro, and failure to bring the country into the Schengen area. In 2003 Mr Blair committed the UK to fighting a war in Iraq, which distracted him and the country from making real progress with the European project. Without the Iraq war it is very likely the British public would have voted to join the euro in a referendum if it had taken place, which would have strengthened Britain’s links with the Continent: not only economically but also culturally and socially.
If the UK had joined the euro, the country could have increased its local trade in coastal regions, as more visitors from other EU countries were encouraged to come to the UK for weekend visits, because they no longer needed to change their currency. If the UK had joined the Schengen area: it would have made journeys between Britain and the Continent quicker, because passport controls would have been removed for people entering the UK from another EU member state, rather like within the UK there is no passport control on the Isle of Wight for people arriving there from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington. Also passport controls would have been removed for people travelling from the UK to another EU member state. Travelling by Eurostar from London to Paris would have been no different to travelling by train from London to Birmingham. However, Schengen can only work if it is protected by border forces that protect the EU’s external borders.
Removing internal borders within the Schengen area, but protecting the external borders of the area would have allowed for EU citizens and those who had entered Europe by legal means to move around the Continent freely, while keeping out illegal immigrants. The problem of recent mass influx of migrants into Europe, has not been because there is too much Europe, but rather not enough Europe. Europe can only coordinate the protection of its external borders: if it becomes a big country or one nation made up of its member states. Therefore a European Union which is a european federal superstate should be welcomed as a natural progression of history, just as there is a United States of America.
In his speech to Open Britain, Tony Blair mentioned the hostility of parts of the media towards Europe when he said: “There is an effective cartel of media on the right, which built the ramp for pro-Brexit propaganda during the campaign; is now equally savage in its efforts to say it is all going to be ‘great’ and anyone who says otherwise is a traitor or moaner; and who make it very clear to the PM that she has their adulation for exactly as long as she delivers Brexit.”
That hostility from the media “cartel” made it so difficult for Tony Blair to commit Britain to Europe during his own time in office. If there had been better coverage of Europe in the media in 2002 and 2003, which had shown the British public how the EU could improve the lives of ordinary hard working men and women in the UK: then Tony Blair could have focused on the euro, Schengen and the european constitution, rather than getting involved in the Iraq war.
©Jolyon Gumbrell 2017