Amongst the pantheon of advantages the European Union has afforded the youth of the United Kingdom – the ability to study across the continent through the Erasmus Scheme, the chance to travel and work in majestic European cities including Paris, Barcelona, Vienna and Rome – no advantage equals the splendid ignorance of what it must be to experience the horrors of pan-European warfare.
Not so long ago, a once anarchic Europe devoid of supranational or intergovernmental institutions saw militarism as the only sure way for nation states to secure national frontiers, and so, for over a thousand years, in a zero-sum race for continental dominance, the children of the British Isles bled the fields of Europe red: at the Somme, at Agincourt, at Waterloo, and upon the beaches of Normandy.
The establishment of a common market for raw materials through the European Coal & Steel Community in 1952 would be the first attempt to bring Europe’s peoples together in peace since the disintegration of the Pax Romana some two millennia earlier. The Community’s practice of Commercial Peace Theory and Interdependence Liberalism would render the necessity for Offensive Realist foreign policy obsolete, effectively making war not merely unthinkable but materially impossible.
The development of the European Economic Community and later the European Union would further cement peace throughout the continent: where once nations existed as political and economic rivals, they would now mutually benefit from their respective successes, meaning there was more to be gained through peace than through attacking neighbours whose economic prosperity they were themselves invested in and reliant on.
The carrot of EU membership would go on to play a central role in delivering democracy, peace and economic freedom for the peoples of Eastern Europe in the precarious years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, ensuring the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 on the basis that, “The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”
To think that the visionary architect behind this success was none other than Britain’s own Sir Winston Churchill, who had urged as early as 1946: “There is a remedy which… would in a few years make all Europe… free and… happy… It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
The crucial role the United Kingdom played in establishing not only a peace across Europe many once thought impossible, but in bolstering democracy and the rule of law across the continent, emphasises exactly why we cannot permit the advent of Brexit to diminish the influence this great nation has in Europe; we cannot be allowed to simply shelter behind our island walls and retreat into isolationism.
Our Leave vote occurred in concert with unsettled times in the Western world, with the rise of populism, protectionism, the advent of Donald Trump and the subsequent existential threat to the Pax Americana and even the NATO alliance and its Article 5 promise to provide joint assistance to any member under attack. We must resist descent into hyperbole, but we disregard the undeniable parallels to be drawn with the Interwar Period at our peril and would do well to remember that Hitler’s policy of territorial expansionism was, at its core, an expression of anti-Globalisation, hell-bent on self-reliance and fuelled by mistrust of foreign peoples.
It is of paramount importance that peace and security are in no way jeopardised, nor used as bargaining chips, during the course of the Brexit negotiations by either side.
For the sake of the greater good of all concerned, it is crucial that Europeans continue to strengthen relations so as to sustain peace and challenge today’s modern threats to stability, such as in taking joint action to tackle cross-border organised crime and terrorism, for the collective work of the whole is unquestionably greater than the sum of the parts in this regard.
The UK Government must guarantee that it retains access to the EU’s Schengen Information System II, which provides information regarding wanted or potentially dangerous persons and materials, as well as sharing strategy on how to deal with specific criminal activity. Similarly, figures such as Rob Wainwright, head of the EU law enforcement agency, Europol, must desist from dangerous rhetoric regarding restricting the UK’s access to the system, not least because UK counterintelligence are one of the single largest contributors to the database and such a move would only strengthen the position of those who wish harm upon the peoples of Europe.
Recent former chiefs of MI5, Lord Evans, and MI6, Sir John Sawes, have also highlighted that both the UK and EU could encounter serious security ramifications if the UK were no longer partnered in the European Arrest Warrant. Similarly, European counterterrorism collaboration through the Passenger Name Record initiative, sharing of suspicious credit card use data and mobile phone data must not be endangered.
However, fundamentally, Brexit must not equate to an end to a partnership with our European neighbours, solidarity must not be permanently corroded by embittered Brexit negotiations, and so Theresa May would do well to make a bold statement of goodwill towards the EU by unilaterally allowing EU nationals in the UK the right to remain in the country post-Brexit.
The UK must demonstrate that it is leaving the European political union, not the European social union, and that the UK will forever remain a great European nation; the same nation whose scientists and philosophers were at the heart of the continent’s Age of Enlightenment, whose youth perished in the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil war, came to the aid of Belgium in the Great War and Poland in the Second World War, the same nation whose national sports of rugby, golf, tennis and football continue to bring the continent closer as one.
The miracle of seven decades of relative peace on the continent is not a luxury we must ever be as bold as to take for granted. In every city in the United Kingdom, in every town and every village, we find cenotaphs dedicated to the memory of those who perished in the world wars, those heroic men and women who knew war that we might know peace – the greatest means by which we may honour them is to ensuring that the youth of today’s Britain never suffer what they once suffered.
We must make certain that Brexit does not mean an end to this brief epoch of light after so many centuries of darkness, that Europe is forever a family of nations bound, politically or otherwise, in the shared endeavour of peace and the pursuit of the common good for all its people.
Rodaidh is a Politics & Scottish History graduate from the University of Stirling who takes a particular interest in political philosophy and European history.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the individual and do not necessaries represent the views of the European Youth Parliament UK.