A British exit from the European Union would be ‘an act of historic folly’ that would create ‘terrible suffering’ for future generations, Paddy Ashdown warned this week during a speech in Gibraltar.
The Liberal Democrat peer told the annual dinner of the Gibraltar Society of Accountants that Brexit was a step into the unknown that would put core British values at risk in a turbulent world.
“The things I really love about our country – its trading spirit, the fact that we went out into the world and made things happen, our tolerance and respect for others, our decency and our compromise – all these things are desperately at risk,” Lord Ashdown told the packed event on the Sunborn.
A former Special Forces soldier and diplomat, the former leader of the Liberal Party was the EU’s special representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina and was recognised for his work helping to bring peace to that region.
The EU, he said on Wednesday night, is “the greatest peace-making institution” the world has ever seen, “…more so than all the aircraft carriers of the United States and of NATO put together.”
He said the referendum on EU membership came at a time when the EU was surrounded by conflict and turmoil on all its borders, from an aggressive Russia to conflict across the Middle East and upheaval across the Maghreb and down into central Africa.
“And this is the moment we want to abandon our solidarity with our European neighbours in such a turbulent world, in favour of an illusory sovereignty?” he asked.
“This will be an act of historic folly from which our children and their grandchildren and great places like Gibraltar will suffer terribly.”
“We must make sure, every single one of us, that we do whatever is necessary to make certain that doesn’t happen.”
‘EMOTIONAL, SENTIMENTAL, PATRIOTIC’
Lord Ashdown’s impassioned speech followed an earlier intervention from Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who told guests at the dinner that there was no logical economic argument for leaving the EU.
Addressing a roomful of accountants, lawyers and business representatives, Mr Picardo said independent financial and economic organisations across the world made the case for remaining in the EU.
“They are all telling us that the future for the United Kingdom is better in Europe,” he said.
“When it comes to the economics of this decision, it’s a slam dunk for remain.”
But Mr Picardo focused mainly on the “emotional, sentimental and patriotic” arguments for remain.
He said Gibraltar had always faced up to adversity but that Brexit represented a challenge that neither the UK nor the Rock needed to take on.
If the UK voted to leave, however, Mr Picardo said Gibraltar would adapt, even if Brexit represented an existential threat to the Rock’s “current” economic model.
“If we do face that challenge – and it’s not a challenge of our own making – if we are pulled out of the European Union by a United Kingdom the numbers of voters of which obviously will outnumber us, then Gibraltar will not just survive, of course we will prosper,” he said.
“But there will be a period where we would have to adapt this economy.”
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Pic by Mark Galliano