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'Brexit must never mean cutting ties with Europe'

In-depth | Published:

West Midland food scientist Prof Ralph Early is launching a new branch of the European Movement, set up by Churchill to strengthen ties with Europe. He explains why it is important to stay close post-Brexit.

As the world reels from the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, it is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on the importance of cooperation.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has claimed thousands of British citizens, has indeed confirmed the need for countries to work together. Even now, scientists across Europe and the world are collaborating in the attempt to develop a vaccine.

However, this virus is not the only threat we face. Other problems lie in our future which will require European and international cooperation. These include anthropogenic climate change, widespread ecosystem collapse, food and water insecurity, and possibly even wars caused by disputes over natural resources.

And don’t be naive in thinking that another viral pandemic is unlikely, as the next one may be just around the corner.

So, as we lament those lost to Covid-19 and acknowledge our debt to front-line workers, this is perhaps not the wisest of times for the UK to be going through the process of isolating itself. But that is what the UK is in the process of doing, as a result of the 2016 EU referendum.

The British people must now chart their own destiny separate from the nation states of Europe. We will naturally learn much of value from the experience of Brexit, such as how we want our country to be governed when the EU’s influence as the largest single market on the planet has all but ceased.

We will though need to be wary of more powerful economies such as the USA, which may seek to exploit the weaknesses of a small country standing alone on the world stage. Additionally, stepping away from the unity of the EU could render Britain a minnow in waters frequented by Russian and Chinese sharks.

Ralph Early

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That said, Brexit will doubtless be an adventure and there will be interesting times ahead, particularly if we depart the EU without a deal and before we have had chance to recover from Covid-19.

In history, many nations have stood alone in times of crisis. The concept certainly appeals to fiction writers and political myth-makers. But in reality it frequently leads to hardships and a reduced quality of life. This is especially so when caused by isolationist politics fuelled by the exceptionalist ambitions of politicians whose careers are invested in the appeal to nationalist and populist sentiments as the route to political power. Usually, such politicians care little for the people themselves, using them solely to achieve their own ends.

Winston Churchill knew very well of the dangers that lie in political isolationism and the ambitions of those who weaponise nationalism and populism to gain power. He had seen it in the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. But he also knew the value of looking to history to chart a sound and secure course for the future.

In 1948, in an address to the British House of Commons he warned of the dangers that exist in the separation and division of nations, stating: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.

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He also knew that when neighbouring states trade together they are more likely to live together in peace and harmony. So, also in 1948, he took the monumental step of founding the European Movement, an international organisation that exists to this day, with the aim of promoting European values of peace, prosperity, and international cooperation.

The European Movement is a national, non-political organisation particularly active in the West Midlands. It exists to enhance the quality of lives of British citizens by strengthening social, cultural, scientific and economic linkage with the nations of Europe.

Churchill understood the value of collaboration and cooperation between neighbouring countries.

Brexit will undeniably change the UK and the relationship of the British people with Europe and the world.

At this point it is too early to say how changes will be manifested and whether in total the changes will be positive or negative.

But British citizens must not become isolated from citizens of the EU.

Such an occurrence would be counter to Churchill’s vision of the UK’s place in Europe and it would be contrary to the objectives of the European Movement itself.

Importantly, if Britain were to be isolated from Europe’s countries as a matter of political and economic policy, this could also jeopardise the pan-European collaborations that will be necessary to deal with the shared problems we inevitably face.

In this respect, the horrific experience of Covid-19 should serve as a warning bell for our entire nation.

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