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Global Britain and the Future of Europe
16 January @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
As the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union, its position in relation to the continental mainland is once again in the spotlight. Since the Second World War, Britain’s principal objective has been to underscore – alongside the United States – the defence of Europe, first against German resurgence, then against the Soviet menace, and now against the challenge from Russia. But as it engages with a more global perspective, how should Britain position itself in Europe?
By kind invitation of Bob Seely MBE MP, Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight, and a Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to join the panel discussion in which Dr Ian Kearns, Hans Kundnani, Rt. Hon. Gisela Stuart and James Rogers will outline how they think the relationship between Europe and Britain should evolve in the years ahead.
Ian Bond is the Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform. Prior to that, he was a member of the British diplomatic service for 28 years. His most recent appointment was as political counsellor and joint head of the foreign and security policy group in the British Embassy, Washington (2007-2012), where he focused on US foreign policy towards Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia and Africa. He was British Ambassador to Latvia from 2005-2007, receiving a CVO (Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) for his work on the Queen’s state visit in 2006
Hans Kundnani – is Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Programme at Chatham House, where he focuses on Germany and Europe. Formerly, he was Director of Research at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Rt. Hon. Gisela Stuart – a British Labour Party politician, who served as the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbaston from 1997 until stepping down at the 2017 general elections. Born and raised in West Germany she has lived in the UK since 1974. Stuart was Chair of the Vote Leave Campaign Committee and leader with Conservative MP Michael Gove. Since September 2016, Stuart has served as Chair of Vote Leave’s successor organisation Change Britain. She has been Chair of Wilton Park – a not-for-profit executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising over 65 events a year on issues of international security, prosperity and justice – since October 2018.
James Rogers is Director of the ‘Global Britain’ Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, of which he is a founding member. Formerly, he held a number of positions at the Baltic Defence College in Estonia and has worked at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris.
On the 16th of January the Henry Jackson Society was honoured to co-host a panel with Bob Seely MBE MP at Portcullis House. The panel’s topic was ‘Global Britain and the Future of Europe’, an incredibly important focus point amid the ongoing Brexit stalemate; the panel coincided with parliament’s session to decide the vote of no confidence implemented by the opposition, following the landslide defeat of Theresa May’s deal the evening before, on 15 January. The panel consisted of the Rt. Hon. Gisela Stuart, Hans Kundani, Ian Bond and HJS’ very own, James Rogers.
Bob Seely kick-started the proceedings by arguing that, in leaving the EU, the UK is, potentially, returning to being a continental power in a form not seen since the 19th Century. Bob also commented that the Brexit debate is generally economic and cultural in nature, highlighting where the debate is missing in terms of foreign policy and global strategy.
Hans Kundani followed and made the observation that an important question is whether Germany is a hegemon or not. Moving on, he made high focus point the deep fault lines that run through the EU, drawing especial attention to the divide between north and south. Euroscepticism is a zero-sum game, according to Hans; what it would take to lower Euroscepticism in the south would raise it in the north and vice versa, with the same going for east versus west.
Focusing on a particular north-south debate, Hans spoke about the Euro and how those states within the single currency have leaders who will do anything to keep it alive. Hans used this to talk about the EU being a discipliner – with Germany often leading the way – and how this is going to have to remain so; as seen in the German-led enforcement of the ‘Rule of Law’ in Hungary and Poland recently.
Finally, Hans, drawing on Bob’s comment that the Brexit debate is partly cultural, observed that the UK is exceptional in its freedom of movement debate; with Brits not distinguishing between (white) EU immigrants and the non-EU immigrants.
Gisela Stuart started by calling for a definition of ‘Europe’ that goes beyond the EU and looks at it geographically, i.e. the continental shelf. Succeeding Hans’ points, Gisela pointed to Germany leading the way, especially with the single currency; making the argument that really, there should be a separate single currency for north and south, but that this would involve France being south and Germany north, which would defeat the point altogether. Gisela used this to highlight that the EU is yet to solve any of its big issues yet, for example finances.
Gisela closed by offering a major UK strength: that it we are much more comfortable and proficient when talking to the rest of the world – something that many in the EU realise – and so we must gain a better understanding of the changes in the world and use this to our advantage.
Ian Bond swiftly quipped that it was surprising no one had yet quoted Churchill, so he used the quote, ‘If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea’, to introduce his first point. Ian’s point was that Churchill’s thinking encapsulated in the quote shapes or summarises a lot of thought today, but people must remember that our strategic position is very different now. Ian’s second point was that the EU is closer to its EU (or NATO) aim of peace and prosperity on the continent than ever before and that the EU will be our greatest partners for a good while to come. Finally, Ian’s third point was quite simply President Trump and his unpredictability.
Ian used these three points to argue that the UK needs to be more aware of what is on the horizon: if the UK leaves the EU, who is going to lead EU security and defence? EU officials are allegedly very worried about this and the UK almost certainly will have to retain a close role. Furthermore, our resources are already strained and will be more so, post-Brexit. So, what to do with those resources, should we be considering involvement in the South China Sea, for example? Ian argued that the Royal Navy and our expeditionary forces might well not be sufficient and we should seriously consider rectifying this as soon as possible.
The final panelist, James Rogers, opened by stating his opinion that the UK is not going to stop being a European power; Brexit is about leaving the EU not Europe and we need to be more forceful globally, reassessing our strategic role. James pointed out that Brexit does come at a time of great unrest and uncertainty, offering populism and a resurgent Russia as examples. The expectation that the UK is responsible for EU peace and security is, in James’ opinion, a profound illusion; to describe the real arrangement, he used the analogy that NATO and the US is the strategic ‘shell’ and EU is the ‘soft yolk’. James also addressed the fact that people often mistakenly say that Europe is at peace, forgetting the war in the Ukraine, the sparking of which was of course catalysed by EU encroachment.
With the strategic and economic centres of gravity moving towards the Indo-pacific region, James argued that the UK needs to stop leading EU security, with other NATO states more than able to take up this role (Germany, Italy, Norway etc.) alongside France, leaving the UK to look more globally, whilst retaining the EU as a major partner. James closed by stating this is not just a point of stark consideration for the UK, but the European states as well, who need to be far more careful in these matters.
The event was closed by a very good round of Q and A, offering many more points of important consideration from all members of the panel. Two of James’ answers make the best conclusion. First, the reason that Russia has become so strong is because we (the EU) have allowed ourselves to become so weak. Secondly, the EU that grew up between 1990-2010 is not designed to tackle the kinds of threats and geopolitical struggles that are arising today and something must change if we are to survive in any desirable capacity.