Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown today (25 May) called for European cash for towns and cities struggling to cope with the refugee crisis, in a bid to convince 14 million undecided Brexit referendum voters to back staying in the EU.
A European “migration challenges and support fund” would ease British fears that immigration – a major issue in the debate as Europe struggles to deal with the worst refugee crisis since World War II – could put unbearable strain on healthcare, education and other public services, he said.
“We know that one of the greatest grievances of the public is that inadequate provision is being made where the NHS [National Health Service] is under severe strain and where school enrollments are not met by enhanced teacher provision. A dedicated EU fund would help address this issue,” Brown said at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Brown said there were 14 million voters who could be convinced to back Remain at the 23 June referendum on the UK’s EU membership.
But he warned Socialists & Democrats MEPs, including European Parliament President Martin Schulz, that they would not accept an unreformed EU.
He said, “In a few days’ time the focus of the referendum will shift from the current battle for the hearts and minds of Britain’s 11 million Conservatives to an even larger group – Britain’s 14 million other voters, 9 million of them Labour, who are not right-of centre – and to the danger that many of them will not vote Remain but simply remain at home.
“They do not think the status quo is to their benefit. They want to know how their lives can improve and they need to hear a positive message of how Europe can deliver for them in the future,” Brown, chancellor during Labour’s years in power under Tony Blair, said.
Migration Marshall Plan
Brown sketched out plans for a huge increase in aid to the Middle East and Africa to help ease the refugee crisis and root out the causes of terrorism.
“Given Britain’s history at the head of the European policy table, we are well placed to lead the articulation and implementation of a modern Marshall Plan that the Middle East and Africa now desperately requires,” he said.
The Marshall Plan was an American aid programme, worth $130 billion in today’s prices, to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.
NATO was just a military organisation and could not combine economic reconstruction, diplomacy and development aid in the way the EU could, Brown said.
“Meanwhile, far away across the Atlantic, America does not experience at first hand the daily threat of Middle East terrorism and its mass migration and cannot share our urgency,” he added.
— S&D Group (@TheProgressives) May 25, 2016
Vote Leave attacked
Brown lashed out at the Vote Leave campaign and criticised UKIP for ignoring the benefits of migration, such as the many foreign doctors and nurses in the NHS.
He said, “Bringing control back home… is the theme of just about every isolationist, protectionist, xenophobic, and populist movement in Europe and America today.”
He took aim at Leave leaders Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, saying they did not care about sovereignty, but were only against the EU.
“If you were really concerned about sovereignty, if that was the only thing that mattered in this, then you would be saying that the first priority is to remove American bases from Britain,” he said, “But have you heard Michael Gove or Boris Johnson mention this issue, as the key issue concerning sovereignty?”
Jobs, tax, energy and climate
Brown said that a clear agenda of reform on central issues to the Brexit campaign, including migration, terror and security, could convince the British people the UK to back Remain.
Promises of EU action on jobs, the economy, climate change, energy prices and security, worker’s rights on issues such as zero hour contracts, and against tax havens would also increase turnout, said Brown.
He said, “The positive agenda I propose is not only essential to convince Labour and progressive voters to turn out on June 23 but it is also the correct way forward – with Britain discovering a post-imperial role that makes us proud to be in the vanguard of the next stage of Europe’s development. In short, we should be leading Europe, not leaving it.”
He pinpointed next year’s UK Presidency of the EU as the moment when the British government could throw its weight behind those changes. The UK takes up the influential six-month rotating presidency in July to December 2017.
Schulz ‘excited’ by plans
European Parliament President Schulz said he was excited by Brown’s ideas, and that he wanted Britain to be a “leader” in the EU. But he warned that the result of the referendum would be final.
He said, “The decision to stay in or leave the EU is a decision for the British people to take – and for the British people alone. And let me say this very clearly: we will respect the vote of the British people: a decision to leave is a decision to leave. A decision to stay, is a decision to stay. There will be no huffing and puffing from our side.”
Schulz said it was time to stop worrying about how much the EU cost because the UK was better off financially outside the bloc than in it.
“I think it’s time to get over the book keeping approach, get over who pays what, who gets what out of the common market and the EU budget and look to the much wider implications of EU membership,” he said.
But Schulz admitted, “Whatever happens on the 23 June, the EU will remain an important trading partner for the UK.”
— Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) May 25, 2016
He said the EU should not be allowed to fall apart and that the UK would not be forced to integrate further into the bloc.
“If we Europeans fall apart, following the illusion that the finest hour of the nation state has arrived, we will drift insignificantly into the backwaters of the world political scene,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to do away with the nation state. That we wish to remain British or Germans, for example, is obvious when we consider how much importance we attach to our respective languages and cultures and to football.”
Schulz added, “The truth is the UK has never been obliged or even been pressured to feel obliged to join any step of EU integration and has already chosen to exclude itself from many areas where the other member states cooperate.”
Brown’s speeches were influential in swinging Scots against independence during the referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK.
“To win in the Scottish referendum we had to do much more than elaborate the negative consequences from the breakup of Britain, we had to set out a positive reform agenda,” he said.
But he poured cold water on the idea that Brexit would lead to Scotland quitting the UK.
“I believe that even if there was a second referendum in Scotland, which I think is unlikely but is what the nationalists would demand if we left the European Union, the people of Scotland will be persuaded it is better to be part of the UK,” he said.
Not everyone was impressed by the speech. UKIP MEP Roger Helmer said he was preaching to the converted, rather than the British people.
Gordon Brown sits down after a rousing pro-EU speech in the EU parliament. Wild applause. Standing ovation. Preaching to the choir.
— Roger Helmer (@RogerHelmerMEP) May 25, 2016
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union before his election in May 2015. The renegotiation was to be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
After the February 2016 European Council, where a reform deal was agreed, Cameron will campaign to stay in with the referendum date set for 23 June.
Europe is struggling to deal with its worst refugee crisis since World War II.
- 23 June: Referendum
- July 2017: Start of the UK Presidency