Faced with an overwhelming amount of information about the possible effects of Brexit on the interests of the UK and others, Sandy Johnston, who spent many years working on these issues in an official capacity, writes:
Like many institutions the EU has its faults: Excessive bureaucracy, ponderous processes, a chronic case of the "topsy" principle, and increasingly unaccountable behaviour in the top echelons. The ill-fated Constitution was voted down by French and Dutch referendums. This is often seized on with some justification as further evidence that the EU and its trappings are seen as something of a theme park for political and business elites, and generally distrusted by the man on the Clapham omnibus. We are bombarded with opinions, forecasts, statistics, projections amongst which it is very hard for even relatively well-informed people to discern facts.
In the furore of claim and contradiction that we have witnessed in recent weeks about what Brexit would or would not mean for the UK, the area of defence and security had remained largely ignored, all the focus being on jobs, immigration, the health service, incomes and the economy in general. Then two weeks ago the Prime Minister delivered what has since become caricatured as the "third world war" speech, and when I read in it much of what I myself have been writing and saying in various places it left me wondering what I could add that might seem new. Has the EU been fundamental to keeping the peace in Europe over the last 70 years? Yes, absolutely. Is NATO the cornerstone of European defence? Yes, unquestionably. Do both organisations have a role to play in defence and security? Yes, obviously. Can they work effectively together for the benefit of their members? Not easily is the answer, and it will be a great deal more difficult if the UK is not fully engaged to prevent unhelpful developments. Let us start with some history.