Leaving the European Union risks the “fragmentation of the western world”, the former foreign secretary William Hague has said.
Before a speech on Wednesday entitled: “Why a Eurosceptic should vote to remain,” Lord Hague admitted he saw the European Union as “the lesser of evils” compared with the damage to the economy and to international instability a leave vote would deliver.
Hague, once a prominent Eurosceptic, said the political climate had shifted significantly since the mid-1990s when his hostility to the bloc was at its peak.
“We are in an imperfect world and many of the choices we make in life or in politics are between the lesser of evils,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I remain a critic of the European Union … but you still have to make a cool-headed decision when it comes to leaving. It is in the interests of the people of this country, in the interests of their jobs and businesses in particular [to remain in the EU].”
Hague surprised many members of his party when he wrote an article for the Telegraph in December, saying he planned to vote to remain, having defined himself as a Eurosceptic since he first addressed the Conservative party conference in 1977 aged 16.
Challenged by the Today presenter Nick Robinson over the numerous criticisms he had made of the EU over his political career, Hague said he had been persuaded that both the national and international landscape had changed so significantly in the past two decades that staying in was the safer choice.
“Some things have changed, which make it safe and possible to stay in the European Union. We were still fighting for those things back in the 1990s,” he said, citing the campaign to keep Britain out of the euro, out of the Schengen free movement area, and the act passed in 2011 to make sure no further powers could be given to Europe without another referendum, as well as David Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU to withdraw Britain from a commitment to “ever closer union”.
“The thing that has really changed in the last 20 years … since I was leading the Conservative party, is that then one of the great dangers to this country was domination by the European Union, of losing our democratic accountability in this country,” he said.
“Now I believe a great danger is a fragmentation of the western world, in the face of terrorism and many other threats, including great economic threats and uncertainty and the UK leaving the EU will contribute to dividing us across the Atlantic and splitting America and Europe.”
He said he believed Eurosceptics could “raise our eyes from parochial concerns and look at the challenges of the next 20 or 30 years. That is something that has changed compared to 10 or 20 years ago.”
Hague will say in the speech later on Wednesday that those who want to leave the EU are indulging in fantasy economics, according to the Times.
“The idea that we can leave the EU without any serious economic consequences for jobs and businesses in Britain, and somehow have more money to spend on the NHS and other services at the same time, is a total fantasy, and people need to know that before they vote,” he will say.
This article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th June 2016 10.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010