Don't Leave Us! Why Germany Needs the British

In just under two weeks, the people will decide if they want to remain in the EU or not. Brexit would be a catastrophe for everyone, including the UK itself. Why we need the British and the British need us. An Appeal.

AP

By , and


It's not easy to like England at the moment. One of the reasons is standing in the market square of Preston, located on the windy western side of the island, with his sandy hair, wrinkled blazer and jeans. Until recently, Boris Johnson was mayor of London.

But now, microphone in hand, he is fighting against Europe. Behind him is a red-painted campaign bus emblazoned with the words: "We send the EU £50 million a day." Johnson bounces on his toes like a birthday boy: a new survey has just come out indicating that the Brexit camp is in the lead. A personal success.

Boris, as everyone calls him, has become the leading figure in the anti-EU campaign, and ahead of the June 23 referendum, polls show that the British trust him more than any other politician. His announcement that he would fight for the Brexit movement dominated the headlines, partly because it was also a declaration of war against his Conservative party colleague David Cameron, the British prime minister. Since then, Johnson has been rolling around Britain in his red bus like a thunderstorm. In Devon, he compared the EU to Hitler; in Stafford, he said Brussels prohibits the sale of bananas in packs of more than two or three and for that reason alone, Britain should leave. The newspapers have reported that he only wants to allow immigrants into the country if they can speak good English.

"Does anybody know how many of our laws are made in Brussels?" he asks loudly into the microphone. "Sixty per cent. We're losing control over our democracy." The 150 spectators clap and cheer. And isn't it time, Johnson asks, to take control of our immigration policy? Immigrants, he claims, are partly to blame for the fact that wages are so low. "Vote Leave, my friends!"

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: Why the British Should Stay

It has been going on like this for weeks, no, for months. And at some point, after all the relentless bellowing, one finds oneself wondering: yeah, actually why not? Why not let the British take the step that many are apparently longing for: separation from the EU? The rest of Europe wouldn't have to suffer their intransigence any longer and they could be content and happy on their island. Wouldn't that be the perfect solution for everyone?

The answer is no. Were the British to leave the EU, it would be a threefold catastrophe: bad for Germany, bad for Britain and cataclysmic for Europe.

Following Brexit, Germany would lose an important ally and, as a large central power on the continent, it would be definitively condemned to take on the leadership role it never wanted. Britain would be giving up access to a European market of 500 million people and would pay a high price for its isolation. After Brexit, the union as a whole would become economically weaker, domestically more fragile and externally more vulnerable - a situation in which Britain would suffer as well. And that's not even close to all.

Brexit would send tremors not just through Europe, but through the entire western world. All allied nations want the UK to remain part of Europe: the Americans, Chinese, Australians and Japanese. Furthermore, almost all economists have warned against leaving the EU, from the Bank of England to the World Trade Organisation. The only internationally known politician in favour of Brexit is Donald Trump - and, if nothing else does, that alone should make the British worry.

We need the British because they belong to Europe, and because without them, the union of European peoples becomes pointless and lost. We need them because they are part of the community of pragmatic, reasonable countries and because they are politically, culturally and economically similar to us Germans. They are closer to us than the Portuguese or the Croatians; we share their scepticism of state profligacy; and we also share their frustration with the EU. Only with the British can we make the EU better and lead it into a new future. Without them, we would have to walk this path without a significant part of Europe alongside us.

Video: Remain or leave?

REUTERS

Is this really happening? It can't be true that the urbane, courageous and strategically astute British, of all people, want to pull out - that they are leaving now that times are tough. We need them because the continent would otherwise descend into rashness, pettiness and lethargy.

Have those who are campaigning for Brexit forgotten the events of the 20th century? Two world wars, millions of dead and a continent turned into a battlefield. The UK took the lead when it came to defeating Adolf Hitler.

Europe isn't just Brussels. Europe is the successful attempt to learn from the last century and leave the horrors and wars behind. We have created a unique community, an alliance of the willing, one in which erstwhile arch-enemies work together peacefully. Do the British want to risk destroying all that, or do they want to try to improve the processes governing our cooperation?

The UK was never an enthusiastic member of the European club. Nevertheless, British history is irrevocably linked to the continent. As historian Brendan Simms writes in his newly published book, Britain's Europe, Europe has almost always been more important to Britain than the rest of the world. The British Empire primarily served strategic interests based on the balance of power on the continent: against Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries; later against France and tsarist Russia; and against Nazi Germany in the 20th century.

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Timeline: Britain and the EU

Europe made Britain and Britain made Europe. Leaving the continent geographically is not an option. Sorry. And even if the British have been uncomfortable European partners at times, they are irreplaceable - and they are still Europeans. They have a lot to lose should they turn their backs on Europe, but they have much more to win should they decide to stay. They need us just as we need them.

In case some in Britain have missed this, the referendum is not taking place in innocent times. The refugee crisis and the war in Syria are shaking Europe's self-confidence while populists and extremists are gaining ground and autocrats are popping up on Europe's periphery. Economically, the continent is faced with adversaries in Asia - first and foremost China - while in southern Europe we have to find a way to drastically reduce youth unemployment.

The last thing we Germans, we Europeans need is a messy divorce from Britain. Without Britain, Europe isn't just impractical, it makes little sense. But where does the bitterness and yearning for Brexit come from?

The Brexiteers' fight is dominated by the desire to return England to its past glory. The posters read: "We want our country back."

"Let's take back control of our country," agrees Michael Gove, secretary of state for justice and another leading Brexit campaigner alongside Boris Johnson. It's about nation and identity - and about setting boundaries. Britain should not tie its fortunes to a sinking continent, they argue. Instead, the country must break its bonds and turn to the world at large, to the Commonwealth and beyond.

A phantom pain lurks within the debate. Still today, the famous 1962 quote from former US secretary of state Dean Acheson remains valid: "Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role."

Brexiteers paint a picture of a besieged country stuck deep in crisis, and then stoke fears of further decline. That too is a tradition in Britain. The constant fear of decline has tortured and agonised the English soul since the middle of the 15th century, when England lost France, supposedly because the British had become frail, were divided at home and were suffering under a weak monarchy. An inferiority complex is also part of England.

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Photo Gallery: Will London Take a Pounding?

Partly out of fear and partly out of anger, the Brexit camp is waging war against the powers-that-be in Brussels, against the loss of self-determination in united Europe and against "unregulated immigration" in their own country. It is an "us versus them" campaign. The fight has become as dirty as possible in the country of Shakespeare, where political battles are portrayed as wars and, by the end, the stage is covered in corpses. Gove and Johnson have turned the referendum into a plebiscite against immigrants, against eastern Europeans and Turks. Those elements have made the Brexit camp's campaign even more anti-European than it already was.

The central figure of the Remain campaign is also its greatest handicap. For years, David Cameron acted like the most sceptical of British Eurosceptics. He is a tactician, not a strategist, and he promised to hold the referendum because he wanted to be re-elected. His conversion to EU advocate was never credible, and the voters have noticed. The situation is no different with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: he too is only a half-hearted European.

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blueumbrellaprod 06/22/2016
1. Lesson learned?
Obviously the politicians have not listened to the will of the people who have voiced their opposition the the overwhelming immigrants invading the country. Germany has pushed down the throats masses of immigrants who bring enormous social problems not unlike the rapes and thefts over New Year's. And anyone who opposes these policies are called names, and bullied into suppression. The frustration levels are so high and all that pent up frustration is emerging into referendums like this.
glasspix 06/22/2016
2. Who has caused Brexit?
The German political elite headed by Merkel have alienated the British and other European electorate from the larger European ethos. Forcing through Juncker's nomination, opening up the borders to refugees, migrants and terrorists alike, unilaterally inviting Turkey to join this mess, etc. No one has asked Germany to run the show here, and the Biritsh have had enough of being voted down and lectured.
lakechamplainer 06/22/2016
3. US Policy Britain post-Brexit
I think most Americans don't think about Brexit at all. However, if Brexit does occur, I think most Americans would be happy to make a separate deal with Britain. After all, we share a common history and culture that we don't share with the EU. Unlike President Obama, we would be happy to move Britain to the front of the trade negotiations line. And as you pointed out, the process will take time - a 2 year process after notification. By then President Obama will be on the lecture circuit.
Jackie Holt 06/22/2016
4. Great article, but...
The EU needs to make more noise about reform. If the UK remains a member it will be thanks to universal horror at the death of Jo Cox MP, not because the Remain camp convinced the electorate. Euroscepticism is growing throughout the EU and it should already be looking to address the problems - (1) free movement of people. Developed countries benefit from immigration, but they should be allowed to impose limits. (2) Euro. It has been a success for Germans, but it has dragged southern Europe to its knees. Southern Europe has reacted very badly to what it sees as German 'dictatorship' over economic reforms. The Euro can't survive in its present form. (3) Federalisation. Announce that 'ever closer union' is dead and set out a new direction for Europe as an alliance of independent states in a free trade zone. Pool sovereignty only in very specific areas, such as a European Defence Force. The UK would be mad to leave the EU, but it may do so anyway. This should be a wake-up call, but we'll not hearing a great deal of movement from the EU.
thebins 06/22/2016
5.
I'm sure you love the EU its a seventh heaven for the Germanic character, you thrive within your element. As different as chalk is from Cheese, The English hate from the depths of their bowls the feeling that anything on earth has the power 'order' them to any action other than that which they alone wish to concur with. Its genetics. We do not have the Lemming gene. The sight of a 'uniform' on the whole disturbs us, We do not automatically 'respect' authority. Our priority is neighborhood and community. Tell me in the hundreds of thousands of laws the EU has introduced.. how many are directed to 'a happy family?' Happiness in any form?. None- it is not within your agenda. The EU is then a Zombi monster, because it does not have this 'humanity' within its DNA. The EU Frankenstein was never intended to be a joyous happy creature.. but a power hungry predator. But.. I see you Germans are perfectly happy with that, so who am I to rain on your Nirvana. Please don't ask us to stay- we don't want to become like you, its not an insult just a an observation. OBS. The Goddess Athena promised me she will break our chains on the 28th; and like Francis Bacon I in return will dedicate myself to worship her forever. Good Bye Germans.
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