On Monday 16 March, at the House of Lords, Lord Lexden OBE chaired a panel discussion co-hosted by The Henry Jackson Society and The Project for Democratic Union, exploring how British and European unions interrelate, and the implications of current challenges, risks and opportunities for the survival of these unions.
The panel featured Prof. Baroness Smith of Newnham, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University, and Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords; Vernon Bogdanor CBE, FBA, Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History, King’s College London; and Dr. John Bew, Reader in History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department and Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, King’s College London.
The panel discussion and the lively Q&A session that ensued teased out some important points regarding the circumstances that make and break unions between unequal partners, the importance of building union structures based on viable models and precedents, and how having a coherent sense of British interest has been historically vital to constructing an effective relationship with Europe – and how this sense has been eroded and lost in the last ten to twenty years.
The robust nature of the union with Scotland was pointed out – as evidenced by the proven lack of will within the majority of the electorate to submit to a lower standard of living as a price for political independence – although the panel was in agreement that the question is far from resolved, and the composition of government in the aftermath of May’s election will be a decisive factor in how this story unfolds.
A contradiction in British thinking regarding Europe was noted: a desire to construct a stronger and tighter Eurozone, yet a loosening of overarching EU structures to make it more attractive for Britain to stay in. The panel agreed that a critical factor in the balance of this question will be whether the British media will opt to engage constructively in the coming months, listening and taking the time to create a forum and a framework that will draw the national conversation away from reductionist rhetoric towards a meaningful debate about the best interests of the people of Britain and the European Union. At the heart of this must be an honest conversation about why Europe matters – why the bonds that unite us are about more than just economics, and what the dismantling of those bonds would really mean for the peace and security post-war Europe has come to regard as natural.