In movie parlance David Cameron’s speech today on why Britain should stay in the European Union would be best summed up as Project Fear The Sequel: This time it’s really serious.
Having warned over the last few months that a vote to leave would result in financial and economic armageddon, the Remain camp is now moving into the territory of real Armageddon.
In a speech this morning Mr Cameron conjures up the image of British war dead in cemeteries across Europe and comes close to implying that a vote to leave would make conflicts in the future much more likely. Given the grave warnings he is issuing it rather begs the question of why the Prime Minister ever entertained the notion that he might advocate a leave vote in the first place.
So should we take his stark rhetoric with a colossal pinch of salt? Actually no – he is making several entirely valid points.
The first is that over the years the EU has ushered in a period of unprecedented peace and security in Europe. From the wreckage of the Second World War, Europe has created a system of cooperation and integration that has not only made us more prosperous but safer as well. It successfully integrated the east of the Continent after the collapse of communism with the carrot of economic prosperity linked to the development of democracy and civil society.
The EU was also instrumental in bringing about an end to the conflict in the Balkans by offering the prospect of a better future than war to its citizens. On countless occasions over the last 50 years the EU’s endless meetings and hated bureaucracy have nipped conflicts and disputes in the bud – favoring boring compromise over exciting conflict.
Now it is undoubtedly true to say that Britain pulling out of the EU would not, in itself, put any of these gains in jeopardy. But there is a very real risk that it could lead to a domino effect over a period of years that would. From the financial crisis in Greece (and to a lesser extent Spain and Italy), to the unprecedented numbers of refugees arriving on the Continent, the EU has never been under greater strain.
At such times the desire of individual nation states to close themselves off and put up financial and physical barriers to the rest of the world is compelling. Britain is not alone in this. If we were to vote to leave it would provide a significant boost to anti-European sentiment across the continent. We might be the first country to leave, but we probably wouldn’t be the last.
And in such an environment the gains of cooperation, dialogue and mutual understanding that have been hard won over the decades would unravel far faster than anyone might predict today.
As Cameron puts it: “Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption.”
So yes, it is Project Fear the Sequel. But that doesn’t mean the fear isn’t justified.