Former British prime minister Gordon Brown said Thursday (21 April) he was setting out a “patriotic” case for Britain to remain in the EU, in his first intervention on the looming referendum.
Brown said it would be a “tragedy” if the campaign to leave the European Union was seen as the patriotic side in the June 23 vote.
The Scot said there were two competing visions of Britain: one that “stands aloof”, and an “outward-looking” and “internationalist” approach he is promoting.
Brown’s impassioned late intervention for the “No” campaign in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum is credited with being one of the factors behind a majority of Scots voting to stay in the United Kingdom.
“It would be a tragedy if those people who say that Britain should leave the European Union were identified as the patriotic group and those who wanted to stay in were seen in some way as standing up for Europe against Britain,” Brown told an audience in London.
“So my message is: be positive, be principled and be patriotic and put the case with passion.”
US President Barack Obama wasted no time in plunging into Britain’s poisonous EU membership debate today (22 April), arguing strongly against a “Brexit” as he kicked off a visit to the UK.
Brown, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2010, outlined two different visions of Britain: “The Britain that stands alone, that stands aloof, the Britain of the Dunkirk Spirit, the Britain that is fiercely independent.”
On the other side was a Britain “that has always been best when it is outward-looking, when it is engaged and when it is internationalist”.
He added: “As the world becomes more interdependent… the Britain that is outward-looking, the Britain that is engaged, the Britain that is internationalist will be the Britain that young people identify with.”
The former Labour leader also urged supporters of the centre-left party to get out and vote.
Brown, who was Tony Blair’s finance minister from 1997 to 2007, said many voters did not feel the status quo was working for them, and did not feel financially secure.
He said the way to convince them was with a positive pro-EU message about jobs, security and the environment.
Brown said communities hit by high levels of EU immigration should be given more help from the government and Brussels.
The 65-year-old also said crises in the Middle East and Africa required an EU-wide approach.
Brown saidstated that looking at the right balance between “the autonomy we desire and the co-operation we need, if the EU was not in existence it would have to be invented to deal with these problems on our doorstep,” he said.
Opinion polls put the Leave and Remain camps neck-and-neck, though bookmakers put a vote to stay as their odds-on favourite.
During his campaign for re-election in 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union and organise a referendum to decide whether or not Britain should remain in the 28-member bloc.
The British premier said he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU after a two-day summit in Brussels where he obtained concessions from the 27 other EU leaders to give Britain “special status” in the EU.
But EU leaders had their red lines, and ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
The decision on whether to stay or go could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
The campaign will be bitterly contested in a country with a long tradition of euroscepticism and a hostile right-wing press, with opinion polls showing Britons are almost evenly divided.
- 23 June: Brexit referendum
- 28-29 June: Possible dates for EU ‘aftermath’ summit
- Centre for European Reform: The economic consequences of leaving the EU: Final report (21 April 2016)