You are here: EU referendum: Remain campaign's statement to UNA-UK

19 May 2016

To date, the debate surrounding the EU referendum has been narrow, with disproportionate attention being paid to issues such as immigration. UNA-UK's members and supporters are interested in the impact the decision could have on the UK's global role.

In a bid to improve the quality and breadth of the debate, UNA-UK requested short statements from both the official "leave" and "remain" campaigns on the impact that the outcome of the referendum will have on the UK's role on the world stage, including its relationship with the United Nations. Specifically, UNA-UK asked:

  1. How will the outcome of the EU referendum affect the UK’s role on the world stage, including its relationships within other multilateral institutions such as the United Nations?
  2. How will the outcome of the EU referendum support a strong multilateral role for the UK in terms of the international agendas on peace and security, development and human rights?
  3. How do you see the UK’s relationship with the United Nations changing as a result of the referendum?

The statement from the "remain" campaign is available below.  The statement from the "leave" campaign is available here.

Statement from Britain Stronger in Europe

Britain Stronger in Europe is the officially designated lead organisation campaigning for a ‘remain’ result in the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership. We are supported by Conservatives In and the Conservative Group for Europe, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Plaid Cymru, the Alliance Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, as well as The European Movement, London First, Friends of the Earth, Scientists for EU, the National Association of Women’s Organisations, Universities UK, Community the Union, Environmentalists for EU, Henna Foundation, City Sikhs and the National Union of Students. We have dedicated campaign organisations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, over 50 university-based student organisations, and well over 200 MPs, peers, MEPs, members of the devolved assemblies and local council leaders acting as our ‘political champions’. Britain Stronger in Europe’s Chairman is Lord Rose of Monewden and its Executive Director is Will Straw.

Like UNA-UK, Britain Stronger in Europe believes that the result of the referendum will have important consequences for the UK’s international role. Accordingly, Britain Stronger in Europe welcomes both UNA-UK’s initiative to air this aspect of the referendum debate among UNA-UK members, and the opportunity to present its position.  If the UK were to leave the EU, it would remain an important global player. This would be, not least, because of its permanent seat on the UN Security Council.  However, Britain Stronger in Europe believes that the UK would be a more effective international actor, in support of progressive ends and the international system, if the UK remains in the EU. In the contemporary world, engaging in cooperative decision-making gives us more control, not less. It gives us global power, not the illusion of sovereignty. 

If we voted to leave, Britain Stronger in Europe believes that the UK would be less able to play an effective international role in support of progressive ends. This is for six reasons:

  1. Negotiating withdrawal arrangements and a new relationship with the EU, and seeking to replace the preferential trade agreements that we enjoy with over 50 countries around the world through the EU, would absorb UK diplomatic capacity for years and divert diplomatic, bureaucratic and political resources from other priorities. The government has estimated that settling post-withdrawal arrangements could take a decade.  We would also need to develop new ways of working, as a non-EU state, with representatives of the EU institutions around the world and in international institutions – especially, given our permanent UNSC seat, at the UN in New York and Geneva. At least for a time, this would disrupt the UK’s diplomatic operations in these important bodies. 
  2. By being inside the EU, the UK has been able to use the bloc’s added clout to pursue foreign policy objectives more effectively. The EU brings with it greater scale than the UK would have on its own - in diplomatic reach, economic weight, and development assistance and other funding. It also carries a different moral and historical identity than the UK acting alone, which can complement or compensate for features of the UK as an international actor. Recently, the resolution through diplomatic means of the Iranian nuclear issue counts as a successful case of the UK bringing EU economic clout in behind its preferred ‘sanctions + negotiations’ policy. From outside, the UK would be in a weaker position to bring EU action to bear on its priorities. 
  3. After voting to leave, the UK would retain a vital interest in the EU’s international action. The EU would remain the world’s largest trade bloc, a major development assistance donor and provider of political, financial, technical and security support around the world, including in post-conflict situations.  It would remain the organisation with the broadest political and economic reach in our continent and our neighbourhood. Geographical proximity, dense economic and human links, and shared values would often make the EU and its member states still the UK’s first foreign policy partner of necessity and choice. However, if the UK were not a member, shaping the EU’s action would be harder. Influencing the EU and its member states would become a greater foreign policy task, again diverting diplomatic capacity from other priorities. 
  4. In the EU, we have a unique position as the only country inside all major international organisations. This enables us to play a convening and coordinating role that helps to deliver more effective international action. The December 2015 Paris UN climate change conference was a recent example. President Obama has said: ‘When the climate agreement in Paris needed a push, it was the European Union, fortified by the United Kingdom, that ultimately helped make that agreement possible’.The loss of our place inside the EU would make the UK a less valuable partner for countries and organisations around the world. This would reduce our ability to catalyse international outcomes. President Obama has said: ‘We want to make sure that our partner…maximises its leverage…The UK will have less influence in Europe and as a consequence less influence globally…We like you having more influence. We like you being at the table helping to influence other countries.’  The leaders of Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have also made clear they would like the UK to remain in. 
  5. If the UK voted to leave, disentangling the two parties would negatively affect the EU, as well as the UK. At a minimum, it would take up EU political and bureaucratic capacity, at a time when the EU and its member states are struggling to cope with their agenda. But a UK vote to leave could also embolden nationalist forces in other member states, while being seen inside and outside the EU as a vote of no-confidence in the union. Into the longer term, the EU would have diminished diplomatic, military and intelligence capabilities among its member states, and the voice among them for an outward-looking, globally engaged EU, with a serious approach to security issues, would be lessened. This could further strain the EU’s ability to engage effectively in international action. The EU could be weakened overall, undermining one of the pillars of the post-1945 international order and one of the most important attempts in history to institutionalise cooperation between nation-states. 
  6. Leaving the EU could be taken as a retreat from a commitment to address international issues cooperatively, through multilateral institutions and policy regimes. Britain Stronger in Europe believes that, through the negative power of example, this could weaken the UK’s ability to work in support of other multinational institutions and regimes. The effect could be especially strong given that the EU is the most ambitious multinational regime ever attempted, with a particularly high-profile identification with human rights and the rule of law.

For these reasons, Britain Stronger in Europe believes that the UK would be stronger, safer and more influential internationally if we remain in the EU.