This former Tory MP and the current chairman of the European Movement is battling Brexiteers – including ones from his own party.
Our central message in this election is that Europe trumps party. We say that not because we are citizens of nowhere, but because we believe that the drift towards nationalist isolation represents a fundamental threat to British interests.
Over the last 70 years there have been disagreements between the parties over both domestic and foreign policy, but no mainstream party has questioned the principle that our interests are best served by full and active engagement in the affairs of the continent in which we live.
That is not just a matter of economics. Britain has argued for the development of both the European Customs Union and, more importantly, the European Single Market – because both these projects underwrite the economic success of all European societies, including our own. But our engagement with Europe is about much more than that.
When Churchill spoke at the foundation of the European Movement in 1947 he said: ‘Mutual aid in the economic field and joint military defence must inevitably be accompanied step by step with a parallel policy of closer political unity. It is said with truth that this involves some sacrifice or merger of national sovereignty. But it is also possible and not less agreeable to regard it as the gradual assumption by all the nations concerned of that larger sovereignty which can alone protect their diverse and distinctive customs and characteristics.’
If that was true in 1947, how much more true is it in today’s world of instant communication and globalisation?
But it is precisely that principle which is threatened by Brexit.
That is why the European Movement is joining with others to argue that, in this election, our future relationship with the rest of Europe is more important than party label.
We accept of course, as a matter of fact, that Article 50 has been triggered and Britain is engaged in a negotiation to leave the EU. We do not accept, however that this outcome is either inevitable or desirable.
The General Election will create a new mandate for the new Parliament. We believe that this mandate should require the Government to demonstrate, every step of the way, how they believe the Brexit process benefits Britain’s national interests; we also believe that it should require every member of the House of Commons to maintain an open mind about the outcome.
During the campaign we shall therefore challenge all candidates to show that they maintain an open mind about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, and that they are willing in principle to vote for Britain to remain a member of the EU if it becomes clear that this is the best way to secure Britain’s national interest.
Speaking personally, I am what I have always been – a One Nation Conservative. But I cannot support candidates who rule out continued membership of the EU before seeing what alternative is available.
I therefore call on supporters of all political parties, and of none, to join with the European Movement in challenging all candidates to commit themselves publicly to maintain an open mind about the Brexit negotiations and to be willing in principle to support our continued membership of the EU if they believe this is the best way to secure Britain’s national interest.
• Stephen Dorrell is the chairman of the European Movement in the UK