Britain must stop digging its Brexit hole
2018-08-01 13:18:23 -
By Michael McGowan

As the UK government leaves Westminster for its summer break, Prime Minister Theresa May could do worse than reflect on the advice of the internationally renowned former UK Defence Minister Denis Healey, whose often quoted words of wisdom included: “‘When in a hole, stop digging’ is the first principle of politics.”

Healey, whose birth in August 1917 has been marked by centenary celebrations across Europe during the past year, must be turning in his grave as the UK disappears down a deep and dangerous hole of its own making. He knew his foreign affairs, was on active service in Italy during the Second World War, and for several years he was head of the international department of the Labour Party. He would have recognised the depth of the hole the British government has inflicted on itself and the rest of Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, and his advice to ‘stop digging’ would have been loud and clear.

Besides the amazing shambles in Westminster and the Conservative Party, the reputation of the UK in Europe and the wider world is at an all-time low. The disarray across government departments; the resignations of so many ministers; the ‘pairing scandal’ of the government chief whip, who was not sacked by the prime minister despite his disregard of the long-held democratic practice – all have damaged the reputation of the House of Commons, democratic politics and public life.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU is one of the most negative and self-harming acts in the history of Europe. It is damaging to the continent’s hard-won peace and security, including the peace settlement in Northern Ireland which removed the hard border between the North and the Republic, and undermines progress to peace initiatives across the world.

We need more co-operation

The historical roots of the European Union lie in the Second World War. Europeans were determined to prevent such killing and destruction from ever happening again. Soon after the war, Europe was split along eastern and western lines as the 40-year-long Cold War began. By 1949, the Council of Europe was formed as the first step towards co-operation. But six countries wanted to go further. Their ambition is now realised in a union of 28 member states and more knocking at the door, not to mention a directly elected international parliament which is unique in the world.

The EU is the most successful peace project in the history of the world, while also providing young people with access to education, training and job opportunities across its member states. It has also developed close links with developing countries, including special relations with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Remember that it led the solidarity campaign internationally to end apartheid in South Africa at the very time that then British PM Margaret Thatcher dismissed Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”.

There is of course need for change and reform in the EU, but the answer is not and never will be isolation and more nationalism. We need more international co-operation, including more respect and support for the United Nations and more co-operation between member states on foreign affairs. Too many MEPs use the European Parliament as a platform for their national interest and little more.

We need to work for peace and prosperity for all world citizens, get out of the mess the UK has inflicted on itself and others, and heed the wise words of Denis Healey and remember that when you are in a hole, stop digging.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
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