“I would like to see a deal where we couldn’t perceive the UK or the EU as winners or losers. Where the UK is no longer a reluctant tenant of the EU but we are good neighbours,” ECR chief Syed Kamall told EURACTIV Poland.
Syed Salah Kamall has represented London as a member of the European Parliament for the Conservative Party since 2005, and since 2013 has been Leader of the Tories in the European Parliament. In June 2014, he became chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists in the legislature.
Kamall was interviewed by EURACTIV.pl Editor-in-Chief Karolina Zbytniewska.
During the Brexit referendum, what were you for, Remain or Leave?
Kamall: I had taken a lot of time to balance out the arguments both for Remain and Leave and there were good and bad arguments on both sides. In the end, I decided to vote for Leave.
Why? The UK was a strong and influential player within the EU. And the EU was stronger because of a strong United Kingdom.
First of all, I would disagree with your premise that the United Kingdom became strong because of the European Union.
I didn’t say that. But it regained much of its strength while being a part of the EU.
The biggest reason why the United Kingdom became stronger is because in 1979 the British people elected the Conservative government. It thought about much-needed reforms, including making the economy and labour market much more flexible. We lowered taxes encouraging businesses to grow. Even when Labour eventually came to power in 1997, they actually adopted many of the policies of the previous Conservative government.
The Third Way.
Exactly. So it wasn’t really the EU as such, it was the domestic policies. When you look at the EU you have many weak economies and you have stronger ones. And it’s not because of the EU that we are strong or weak. It’s because of domestic policies.
Of course. But we all live in a globalised world, where everything is interconnected.
That’s the point. We belong to the global world, not just a European world. And what we have to get away from is this idea that many people have here, when they talk about international issues, that it’s only Europe. It’s a bigger world than Europe. In Britain, we have always been a global country. We’ve always welcomed people from across the world, not just Europe and we’ve always looked out to the world.
One of the many reasons some people voted to leave it’s because they felt that our mentality has become too European and we had to look out towards the whole world. There are 6 billion people in the world, not 500 million people from the EU. And many people voted because they wanted to be more globalised, they wanted to be more international
According to the opinion polls, most people voted actually against immigration and against the bureaucratised globalisation identified with the EU. And they actually meant immigration from the EU, and from Poland.
That’s not true. There were three main reasons why people voted for leave. One was migration – and some people indeed voted leave to curb it. Being a member of the EU, you can control migration from outside of the EU but you cannot control it from the inside. And in fact, some people voted leave – like I did – for a fair immigration policy.
I’m a son of immigrants. My parents came from outside of the EU and actually what you started to see over the years, was a racist migration policy with preference given to the EU citizens. Most of them happen to have white skin. And this policy would discriminate against people from outside of the EU. Most of them happen to have dark skin. Effectively, being in the EU means that you have a racist immigration policy. And a lot of people from non-white backgrounds voted Leave against this racism of the EU.
They also voted Leave, because they believe that there should be a Westminster Parliament and British courts that have a final say in policy making, not the European court or the European Parliament overriding the United Kingdom.
And thirdly, there are global people who just wanted global trade with the whole world and felt that the EU was too restrictive. There’s the whole world out there. Why do we confine ourselves to just Europe?
But we don’t. The EU is a global player and its 28 states – the UK included – have been global players individually. We are stronger together and can impose our soft power – our humanitarian or ecological values – on deals with regions that have different views of humanity, trade and climate.
You should listen to yourself there. ‘Cause you sound like an old white European colonialist when you say Europeans should go out to the world and impose their values on other people.
‘Impose’ is the wrong word.
Do you want to say to the people in the world, “I’m going to impose my values on you?”
No. I want to write in our values in the treaties with other regions, not “peoples”.
One of the biggest mistakes of European civilisation has been to assume that it is superior to the rest of the world. I think one of the reasons that Britain would want to be a global nation is because we do not have this patronising attitude towards the rest of the world. And we treat everyone equally whether you’re from Europe or from the outside. Here in the EU we’re (distinguishing between) people from the EU against people from outside of the EU.
Before becoming PM, then-Home Secretary Theresa May was responsible for cutting immigration. She didn’t succeed. Why do you think that now, outside of the Union, she will? EU border control, although far from perfect, supplies double surveillance – national and common – to secure the EU’s external borders.
Did you just say the EU has good border control?
It’s not perfect, but we cooperate together supporting every external country’s national borders with a common border and coast guard and other forms of EU cooperation.
I’m sorry, I think your premise that the EU has a good border control is completely wrong.
I mean that Italy, if it wasn’t a member of the European Union, would have to guard its borders by itself. Now it secures its borders with EU border control. I’m not saying that’s a great system. I’m saying it’s better and stronger than just that of one nation.
European borders are not strong. And we should distinguish between migrants and refugees or asylum seekers. The only way to have fair immigration policy is to leave the EU and treat everyone from the world equally whether they are from Europe or outside. And that’s what Britain is going to do.