Europe is anxious about how we will vote in the EU referendum

North East Euro MP Paul Brannen says the campaign to stay in the European Union must be able to counter emotional arguments

Defence Photography Paul Brannen, North East Labour MEP
Paul Brannen, North East Labour MEP

Defeat has a bitter taste and in politics it also has consequences, which is why the Labour Party finds itself in the midst of an election for a new leader and deputy.

Given how events have unfolded I’m sure I am not the only Party member wishing Ed Miliband had stayed on as leader primarily to steady the ship before, say, standing down after the party conference in the autumn.

Why? Well, for one thing, we all find ourselves somewhat unexpectedly in the first stages of a referendum campaign on our European Union (EU) membership.

The threat for Labour is increasingly apparent. Labour is essentially a pro EU party and we arein danger of being stuck in the dressing room discussing why our tactics failed in the first half while at the same time choosing a new captain. Meanwhile the opposition are already out for the second half scoring unopposed goals.

The last two weeks in Brussels and Strasbourg respectively have seen British Members of the Parliament (MEPs) quizzed repeatedly by our fellow European colleagues as to, “What does this all mean? What will the outcome of the referendum be? Do you think you will end up leaving?”

Don’t for a moment think the referendum consequence of our general election result has gone unnoticed across Europe. Huge worries and concerns have been unleashed and wise heads know that no referendum is a forgone conclusion. If in doubt ask a Scot.

The Prime Minister’s indication that the EU referendum may well occur in 2016, a year earlier than most people expected, is a sensible decision by him. On the Labour side we always felt having a referendum injected huge uncertainty into the business environment at a time when the economic recovery has very shallow roots.

So if it has to happen – and it was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment – then Macbeth’s words seem apt, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly”. Although let’s hope the referendum outcome isn’t quite so bloody.

Yet, referendums are dangerous things. Only last year we had a referendum in Scotland that was intended to settle the matter of independence one way or another for at least a generation. A result was duly obtained but was it conclusive? It appears not and it has stirred up a great deal of enmity.

What if our EU referendum throws up a similar outcome; a clear numerical result but an indecisive political conclusion. How might that poison our society?

Part of the difficulty of trying to argue a rational position in a referendum campaign becomes immediately apparent if the other side is primarily using emotional head vs heart arguments. How best to counter a rallying cry of, “Give us back our freedom!”?

Let me give you an example. In a recent national newspaper article Norman Tebbit trotted out the hackneyed and incorrect statement, “unelected authorities in Brussels”. A mere four words but given our favourable predisposition towards democracy Tebbit had cast a clear dispersion against the European Union. If I retort back, “No, they are democratic” it is hardly a convincing response. My only chance of winning the argument is to explain, which I can do, but it takes time, as you will now see.

The European Union has three distinct component parts. There is the Council composed of elected ministers from the 28 member states. There is the Parliament made up of 751 directly elected members, I am one. Then there is the Commission made up of commissioners appointed by the elected leaders of each member state. The UK’s commissioner is Jonathan Hill appointed by the electedBritish Prime Minister.

Consequently the elected component in the Brussels trio of authority is patently strong, more that can be said for the UK’s House of Lords where one Lord Tebbit himself sits.

There you go then, I’ve countered Tebbit’s four-word negative assertion but it has taken me 95 words, which all goes to prove Mark Twain’s famous adage, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on”.

It is almost a year since my colleague Jude Kirton-Darling and I were elected to represent the North East in the EU parliament. We’ve both learnt a lot in the time so if you would like to invite either of us to come and discuss with your organisation, church, business etc the EU and the forthcoming referendum we would be pleased to do so.

Paul Brannen, Labour MEP for the North East



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