Jan Nedvidek, writing from OUCA
Britain faces three main foreign policy challenges: rebalancing our relationship with Europe, the refugee crisis and our armed forces.
It is remarkable how easily the debate about the European Union disposes of rationality and ventures into the dangerous fields of emotion and feeling. On the one hand, we have virulent anti-Europeans for whom Brussels is the personification of evil, the very opposite of Heavenly Jerusalem. On the other hand, there are people who accuse you of xenophobia, narrow-mindedness and bigotry the moment you say something slightly critical of the EU, and for whom the answer to every problem in the world is more Europe. I have little time for both of those groups.
The issue of our relationship with the EU is an extremely complicated one. There are credible and convincing arguments on both sides — if that wasn’t the case, the debate would have died off decades ago. Given the great political, constitutional and economic gravity of this decision, it is only right that the electorate as a whole is asked what they think, and so I believe the Conservatives were absolutely right to make the referendum one of our flagship policies in run up to the General Election.
I am personally still torn, but I am inclined to believe that the UK would be better off out. Our current position prevents us from negotiating free trade agreements with emerging economies such as Brazil or India. Instead, we are tied to the world’s only trading block with a shrinking economy. It has become clear that the trajectory of the EU is towards 'ever closer union', and that the current economic union will eventually turn into a political one — something I don't think the UK should be part of. The fact that the Council of the EU recently, and for the first time, used qualified majority voting in a key policy area proves my point. There is every reason to believe that sooner or later, Europe will become a federal state, and I think the UK will be able to breathe more freely outside of such a structure.
Arguably, the single most important foreign policy challenge facing Britain is the mass migration of people from the Middle East to Europe. I spent a lot of my time this summer in Central Europe, and saw with my own eyes the utter chaos there. The huge human tragedy compels us all to feel and show sympathy with those fleeing their countries to save their lives. I am very proud that the Government has committed to increasing the amount of money we as a country will spend on helping to secure good living conditions in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where the bulk of refugees currently are. However, let us not forget that this is remedying the effects and not the cause. A lasting solution can only be achieved by economic and political progress in the countries from which refugees are fleeing, and I think we should all be very proud of the fact that David Cameron has stuck to his promise to ring fence the overseas aid budget.
But let us be honest — much of the chaos has been caused by European governments themselves. I was most perplexed to hear Mrs Merkel say that Germany would not cap the number of Syrian refugees one day — thus encouraging tens of thousands of refugees currently in Turkey to undergo the hugely dangerous journey to Europe — only for Germany to close her borders the following day.
Europe can and must help a large number of people whose lives are in danger, but in order to do that, proper rules and procedures must be followed. The complete and utter inaction of EU countries is, I believe, unprecedented. Whilst it is popular to criticise Hungary, it is the only country that has actually been following legislation and treatises the EU as a whole has agreed to, most importantly the Dublin Regulation about protecting the external border of the Schengen Area. The Council of the European Union failed to offer any solution, wasting its time on forcing through quotas that will solve nothing, instead of trying to implement genuine, practical measures.
Whilst it is extraordinary that some of the UK’s most senior politicians befriend terrorists, believe that the IRA should be honoured and that argue that we don’t really need an army, I’m not too worried: I’m convinced that the consensus in the country is that the UK must be able to defend herself against external threats, and must be resolute in doing so. It is for this reason that our independent nuclear deterrent, Trident, must be retained. It is clear that there are evolving threats around nuclear proliferation across the globe. Only last week, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK said that his country would not hesitate to use its nuclear missiles against the West in case of war. Now, please tell me that Trident is a waste of money.
The arguments of those opposed to Trident have not changed much since the days of Yes, Prime Minister. It is saddening that so many prominent members of the SNP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party want to make such a reckless gamble with our national security only to score political points.
It is popular to say that Britain’s influence in the world is diminishing, but I’m having none of that. The Economist made it clear that we are the number one superpower when it comes to soft power. The long lasting positive effect of Britain’s overseas aid budget, protected against cuts, is benefiting not only those countries in which it is being spent, but is also improving our national security. It is clear that the 21st century has been and will be a century of great uncertainty on the global stage. To face those challenges, we need a Britain working with her friends in Europe and the Commonwealth and cherishing our relationship with the US. We need a Britain with strong and proud armed forces, and we need a Britain with the last resort defence system, Trident. Given the views of the current leadership of the Labour Party, I believe it is the Conservatives who can best deliver such a Britain.