It was Boris Johnson who first used the phrase, “We are leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe” and the only reason I remember it so vividly is because it was immediately after we voted to leave back in June. To be honest when I first heard it I thought it was just another one of those media-friendly political spin phrases, but over time it has taken on a more significant meaning to me.
The reason it’s significant is because it speaks to one of the big questions we’ve all been wondering ever since 24th June: what does Brexit actually mean for Britain’s place in the world? Having been one of the EU’s big three with France and Germany, how can we continue to be a leader in Europe and therefore a leader around the world? And these are questions that are extremely important regardless of whether you voted Leave or Remain; whether you thought the EU undermined our global influence or enhanced it, because the one thing that united both sides is that no one wanted to diminish our global influence, as we all voted for what we believed would bring about a stronger Britain in the world.
So what are the new paths open to us as we leave the EU but remain a central player in Europe? Well for starters we should note that the EU is not the only institution which brings together countries in Europe to promote the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. There is another body, separate to the EU and more intergovernmental, called the Council of Europe which was actually founded by the ‘Greatest Briton of all time’: Winston Churchill. It’s in this space where 47 member states, almost all European countries, come together to address issues such as human rights, terrorism, crime, trafficking and many other issues through Conventions. As one of the biggest contributors to its budget, we already are quite active and influential in the Council and that’s something that we can definitely continue to do even as we leave the EU. But that’s just one of many ways to remain involved in European affairs, there’s also the European Economic Area (if we leave the single market), NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe for our common security. At least with this one example it’s already clear that leaving the EU does not mean Britain abandoning its responsibilities to Europe and turning our back to the world.