Roscoe Lecture Series - Liverpool John Moores University

Roscoe Lecture: Andy Burnham

Shadow Home Secretary makes case for Britain’s continued EU membership at Roscoe Lecture

At a sold-out St George's Hall on Thursday evening Andy Burnham MP delivered his Roscoe Lecture 'What Kind of Country do I want Britain to be?' as part of the Nineteenth Lecture Series. The Shadow Home Secretary used his speech on the EU referendum to ‘take on the Leave campaign on their own ground’ and make the patriotic case for Britain’s continued membership.

Burnham said that Brexit would leave the country diminished on the world stage and more vulnerable to acts of aggression and international terrorism, and that leaving the EU would contradict our history of building unions as well as strengthening the case for Scottish independence. He accused supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU of ‘peddling a fraudulent form of British patriotism’.

In front of an audience of eight hundred Burnham said:

“You would think that the Leave campaign are the torch-bearers for British patriotism. The only true Brits. If you want to save the country, you must vote Brexit. This is profoundly misleading. They are peddling a fraudulent form of British patriotism that does not offer a return to Britain's past but a decisive break from it.

“I'm going to say something that I think people don't hear anything like enough from people on the Left of politics. I love this country, our country. I feel proud to be British. I don't subscribe to the current fashion of putting more narrow loyalties first - I am British before I am English.

On Britain’s place in the world:

“If we vote to leave, Britain would be instantly diminished as a nation. We would lose influence on the world stage and in the eyes of other countries. Britain would be a lesser force.

“In 1948, Winston Churchill gave a speech in which he said Britain drew its strength as a nation from its position at the heart of what he called ‘three majestic circles’: the Commonwealth; the English-speaking world; and a United Europe.

“We have always been an outward-looking nation, highly-engaged in world affairs. We carved out for ourselves that unique and powerful place in the world that Churchill foresaw - a bridgehead between the US and Europe, explaining Europe to the US and the US back to Europe. If we vote to leave the EU, we would be surrendering that role. We would be instantly weaker, less influential.”

On Britain’s vulnerability to acts of aggression and terrorism:

“It would leave Britain more vulnerable to external aggression and attack. There would be weeping in the White House and whooping in the Kremlin. All of a sudden, Russia would be next door to a weaker EU but an even weaker Britain.

“And isolation from Europe would make the fight against international terrorism more difficult. Theresa May opted out of a huge number of measures on European co-operation and threw doubt on the need for the European Arrest Warrant. But she has slowly but surely been opting back into many of them and has seen how European co-operation speeds things up and makes us safer.” 

On Britain as union-building country:

“Brexit would not prefigure a return to Britain's past but would signal a break from it. Brits have always been bridge-builders, not isolationists. We have spent centuries painstakingly building unions between countries, not breaking them up.

“We started by putting our own house in order. For centuries, England and Scotland were at each other throats. Then came the Act of Union in 1707. From that stability at home, Britain sought to build its influence aboard. The British Empire may leave people with decidedly mixed feelings to say the least but by 1949 it had developed into a union of 53 free and equal States, the Commonwealth, with the aim of spreading human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

“In the post-war period, we were the instigators of the those powerful unions that still persist today - NATO and the United Nations. And Churchill, the person who most people would look to as the father of our own nation, was also a founding father of the European Union.

“On the 19 September 1946, Winston Churchill made an extraordinary speech called the Tragedy of Europe at the University of Zurich. Let me quote from it. ‘If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that has sprung a series of frightful nationalistic quarrels which in this 20th century wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind. Yet all the while there is a remedy which would as by a miracle transform the whole scene and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European fabric and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.’

“The EU isn't some alien anti-British creation, as Boris Johnson claimed this week, but a British achievement. Whatever our frustrations with it, the European Union has spectacularly achieved the goals that Churchill set for it - peace and prosperity. 

“Brexit is to start down a road that doesn't end with leaving Europe. It would create a domino effect that could end up knocking over those other unions, including NATO. Brexit would threaten the future of our own 300-year Union. Nicola Sturgeon has openly said that a vote to leave would ‘almost certainly’ trigger a second independence referendum. If there is a feeling that England has dragged Scotland out of the EU against its will, then it would surely follow that the likelihood of a vote for independence would be greatly increased.

“Brexit leaves us on a one-way ticket to inglorious isolation for England. This is why I say they are peddling a fraudulent form of British patriotism. If they get their way, it won't be patriotism but nationalism that wins the days.” 

Burnham gave the personal example of his own great-grandfather, who died in World War One, and said that remaining in the EU and fighting for a less nationalistic Europe would honour his sacrifice:

“My great-grandfather, Edmund Burke was a Private in the King's Liverpool Regiment. In September 1916, he was taken a prisoner of war and died in a concentration camp two weeks before the end of the war. I ask myself what Ned would make of the position we find ourselves in now.

“I think he would ask us not to forget the lessons of his past - and not to let the history of the last century repeat itself in this. Peace in Europe seems now to be taken for granted. It is asserted there will never be a return to the tension and the conflict of the past. Breaking away from any group is always a recipe for confrontation and conflict. It never makes you safer. If I think about how I honour my great-grandfather's sacrifice, I am in no doubt it is to carry on fighting for a more united, less nationalistic Europe.”

The lecture concluded with:

“Now is the time to stand up and be counted. Your country could be about to be taken off you. Don't let them diminish this great country of ours. Don't let them define how we are seen by the rest of the world. Let's fight them on the beaches of what it means to be British and reclaim that ground. Let's be true to what we've always stood for and always should. Let's honour the memory of those who fought to bring peace to Europe.”

You can download and listen to his lecture here