Vote to leave the EU would ‘con­demn Bri­tain to ir­rel­e­vance’


More than 300 prom­i­nent his­to­ri­ans, in­clud­ing Simon Schama and Niall Fer­gu­son, are warn­ing vot­ers in UK that if they choose to leave the Euro­pean Union on 23 June they will con­demn Bri­tain to ir­rel­e­vance.

In a let­ter to the Guardian, the aca­demics and writ­ers ar­gue that the referendum of­fers a chance to un­der­score the “ir­re­place­able role” Bri­tain has played, and should con­tinue to play, in Europe’s his­tory.

“As his­to­ri­ans of Bri­tain and of Europe, we be­lieve that Bri­tain has had in the past, and will have in the fu­ture, an ir­re­place­able role to play in Europe,” the let­ter says.

“On 23 June, we face a choice: to cast our­selves adrift, con­demn­ing our­selves to ir­rel­e­vance and Europe to di­vi­sion and weak­ness; or to reaf­firm our com­mit­ment to the EU and stiffen the co­he­sion of our con­ti­nent in a dan­ger­ous world.”

As well as Schama and Fer­gu­son, both fa­mil­iar be­cause of their tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­taries and pop­u­lar books, sig­na­to­ries in­clude Prof Sir Ian Ker­shaw, an ex­pert on the so­cial his­tory of 20th-cen­tury Ger­many; Juliet Gar­diner, whose books in­clude the his­tory of Bri­tain dur­ing the Blitz; and Prof Kath­leen Burk, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary his­tory at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don.

Ge­orge Os­borne, who stud­ied his­tory at Ox­ford and has taken a lead­ing role in co­or­di­nat­ing the re­main cam­paign, hosted many of the sig­na­to­ries at a Down­ing Street re­cep­tion on Tues­day night.

The chan­cel­lor said: “‘I may not have writ­ten his­tory, but I am a keen stu­dent of it. These are the peo­ple who, from all sorts of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, have stud­ied and writ­ten about how Bri­tain’s rich and var­ied his­tory has in­flu­enced ev­ery cor­ner of the globe, ar­guably more than any other na­tion.

“Whether that be the spread of democ­racy, the English lan­guage or the im­pact of our trade links and for­mer colo­nial em­pire upon the world, these are the peo­ple that have helped us un­der­stand that in­flu­ence. They all ar­gue that as a na­tion we are at our strong­est when we are out­ward-fac­ing and en­gaged in the world.”

Fer­gu­son used a speech at the Down­ing Street event to crit­i­cise the nos­tal­gic ar­gu­ments for Brexit, which sug­gest plucky Bri­tain can stand alone, de­scrib­ing them as a “clas­sic ex­am­ple of scis­sors and paste his­tory, clipped from the pages of Our Is­land Story”.

He said: “The les­son of his­tory is that Bri­tish iso­la­tion­ism has of­ten been as­so­ci­ated with con­ti­nen­tal dis­in­te­gra­tion.”

He crit­i­cised Boris John­son for seek­ing to dis­miss Barack Obama’s judg­ment about Bri­tain’s place in Europe. “Boris John­son shame­fully at­trib­uted his view to the An­glo­pho­bia of his Kenyan fa­ther,” said Fer­gu­son.

“In fact, all US ad­min­is­tra­tions since the hey­day of Henry Kissinger have favoured UK mem­ber­ship of the EU. And it should be scant con­so­la­tion to Mr John­son that Don­ald Trump, his Amer­i­can dop­pel­ganger, says he favours Brexit be­cause Trump has also said that he re­gards Nato as ob­so­lete.”

The Trea­sury has spent much of the referendum cam­paign is­su­ing doom-laden warn­ings about how Bri­tain could slide into a deep re­ces­sion if the coun­try drifted out of the EU af­ter the referendum — a strat­egy de­scribed by Euroscep­tics as Project Fear.

Many of the voices heard most loudly have been those of se­nior eco­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ers, in­clud­ing the Bank of Eng­land gov­er­nor, Mark Car­ney, and the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, Chris­tine La­garde.

But the gov­ern­ment is keen to draw other, more pos­i­tive voices into

the de­bate and fo­cus on Bri­tain’s role in the world, as well as the im­por­tance of the EU for Bri­tish goods and ser­vices.

The his­to­ri­ans’ en­try into the de­bate came as Vote Leave, the cam­paign for Bri­tain to leave the EU, claimed the sup­port of a group of se­nior re­tired mil­i­tary per­son­nel, in­clud­ing for­mer SAS chief Gen Sir Michael Rose and Falk­lands war vet­eran Maj Gen Ju­lian Thomp­son.

Rose – who was in­cor­rectly in­cluded on a list of top brass back­ing re­main is­sued by Down­ing Street in Fe­bru­ary – said Euro­pean laws had “se­ri­ously un­der­mined” the UK’s abil­ity to fight wars.

In a mes­sage to vet­er­ans, Thomp­son said: “The re­sult of this referendum will de­ter­mine ir­re­vo­ca­bly what kind of coun­try we, our chil­dren and our grand­chil­dren will live in.

“Ei­ther Great Bri­tain will re­main in the EU, dom­i­nated by peo­ple who we do not elect, who we can­not throw out and who dic­tate many of the laws which gov­ern us, or we will take back con­trol and re­turn to what we were: an independent coun­try in which our par­lia­ment is elected by us, and an­swer­able to us as the law­maker.”

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