International Comment on the EU Referendum​

The referendum outcome will impact our politics, our economics, our security, our reach and our influence far beyond our own shores. All would agree that foreign voices should refrain from commenting on domestic election campaigns, but it is for this reason that this convention does not, and should not, apply to the EU referendum. The debate to date has focused on key themes of sovereignty, cost, accountability and border control, to name but a few, but it is also about confirming our outlook towards our closest neighbours and beyond. In this ever inter-dependent, international world other countries have a view on how Brexit will affect not just us but them as well.  It is not only right for international opinions to be expressed, but we should actively encourage this dialogue - especially with our closest ally the United States.


 The Brexiteers disagree and would have us disregard the international impact exiting the EU will have on our relationships. Many countries whose representatives I speak to regularly through my Foreign Office role continue to be baffled why a nation with such international reach and desire to help shape the future far beyond our shores, that is recognised as arguably the world's most powerful soft power, is considering quitting the EU rather leading the cause to improve it. 


The US and - let us be honest - all our friends in the Commonwealth and the EU want Britain to stay in. Not one is against. The fact that international opinion supports us remaining part of the EU is perhaps another reason why the Brexiteers wish to silence such voices and dismiss their credibility. If our international partners value our place and influence in the EU to the extent to which any bilateral relationship might alter if we left, then it is sensible to take stock of their views and encourage open debate. We should not deny any view from overseas to be heard, whether it be political, military, diplomatic or commercial. 


Britain matters to the US. The special relationship reflects over 100 years of US/European engagement and post war protection that has been principally conducted through the prism of the UK. From Churchill's 1946 call for a Council of Europe and the 1947 Truman doctrine of US commitment to Europe to NATO in 1949 and the 1957 creation of the EU, the US has always supported British leadership in a secure and prosperous Europe.  In a dangerous world they see European interdependence as the best way of keeping the free world working together. They see Brexit destabilising the peace of a Europe today surrounded by, as some commentators call it, a ring of fire but also triggering a new Scottish referendum endangering the UK itself. As Lord Hague recently said "To end up destroying the UK and gravely weakening the European Union would not be a very clever day's work."


Britain is respected across the world as a force for good, a leader and influencer punching far above its weight for a country of its size and population. We must recognise that our status will be affected by severing ties with the EU and our international relationships and influence will undoubtedly alter as a consequence. It is our decision but given its magnitude, our friends have a right to comment and be heard.