Seminar: 'Brexit – an accident waiting to happen' says Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Former UK Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, believes Brexit was 'an accident waiting to happen' and that Britain has always been 'at best, a semi-detached member of the European Union.'

Sir Malcolm Rifkind made his comments at Regent’s University London on 15 February 2017, during a joint seminar held by iCES (Regent’s Institute of Contemporary European Studies) and the Senior European Experts group (an independent body of expert British diplomats and civil servants).

The event served to launch the Senior European Experts’ background paper on ‘Brexit: Options for the UK.’

'While I've never been impressed by the idea of a European single currency, I believe the EU was a historic achievement and a very positive force,' Sir Malcolm Rifkind said.

Guests at a joint seminar held at Regent's University London

'I voted remain because I believe in Europe’s role in the world. The creation of the EU led to extraordinary reconciliation, in particular that of France and Germany. [The UK] was able to opt out of the bits we didn’t like, and so on balance it seemed we should have remained in. 

'Brexit didn’t suddenly come from nowhere. It was an accident waiting to happen. The truth is that from the very moment the EU was created, and the UK subsequently joined it, we were at best a semi-detached member.

'From the moment we joined, we spent most of our time deciding what we were going to opt out of, with the exception of the internal market.

'I make an assumption that 95 per cent of the British public, regardless of how they voted, recognise the importance of continuing to trade with our largest economic partner, and want the Prime Minister to get the best possible trading relationship with Europe.

'It is worth remembering that while there are 5,000 British companies that sell their financial products in continental Europe, there are over 8,000 continental European companies which get access to the city of London.'

Graham Avery CMG, Honorary Director General of the European Commission and Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, noted that for Prime Minister Theresa May, 'no deal would be better than a bad deal.'

He explained: 'The Government’s White Paper setting out the Prime Minister’s plans for leaving the European Union offers a timely wake-up call on trade agreement dispute settlement procedures.

'Brexit should not be reduced simply to a question of trade. This is less important surely than people, values and our place in the world. Other European members have been alarmed by the aggressive posture of some British politicians.

'Painting the EU as ‘others’ and blaming immigrants for a host of things is a well-known psychological ploy.'

Regent’s University London Vice Chancellor Professor Aldwyn Cooper stressed the value of UK higher education within the European mix, adding:

'Universities are big business. Last year there were 2.24 million students at British universities generating a gross revenue of around £33.2 billion. Universities also add on average two to three times their turnover into local economies, and make a contribution of up to £100 billion to the UK economy.

'A key part of Regent’s mission is to develop tomorrow’s global leaders and we punch well above our weight internationally in this respect. It is staggering that 55 world leaders should have studied in a country of the UK’s size. We and other British universities benefit enormously from the fact that they did.'