Introduced by Labour In chief Alan Johnson and welcomed by a substantial delegation of Labour moderates in Church House, Westminster, this afternoon (12th April), Miliband drew on his experience as President of the New York-based refugee aid organisation International Rescue Committee (IRC) to make an impassioned intervention in the Brexit debate from an international perspective.
His speech ranged widely across history and geopolitics, pausing especially on points about current and past world orders. Using the conceit of ‘firefighters’ versus ‘arsonists’ in the world order to argue that Britain has to date always been a nation of firefighters, he urged that now is decidedly not the time to ‘join the ranks of arsonists’, or to practice ‘unilateral political disarmament’.
Speaking in a purely personal capacity to be able to make the case for Remain ‘with passion’, the elder Miliband brother didn’t mince his words – he was critical particularly of those world leaders who would be pleased with a Brexit, including Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, and potentially even Donald Trump.
He also made a point of dispelling what he perceives as the myth that Britain would have a more influential role in the world post- Brexit. Using the conveniently timed release of the IMF’s report on the negative consequences of Brexit today as fodder, he spoke at length about the ‘multiplier effect’ the EU adds to Britain’s power in the world.
Arguing that Britain’s positive influence in the world is disproportionate to its relatively small geographical size, he claimed that London is now the world’s foremost tourist destination – alongside a wealth of other positive contributions Britain has made, and continues to make, to the international order. According to Miliband, Britain is great – and it has maintained this greatness as part of the EU and partly because of the EU. He cited a plethora of achievements in international collaboration, including the EU’s Operation Atalanta, which fights piracy off the coast of Somalia, as evidence for the potential strength of a united West, as well as a united Europe.
Miliband’s speech imparted a sense of urgency and high stakes to a Referendum campaign that has been criticised by some for being uninspired and lacklustre. But given that both campaigns have also been under fire recently for preaching to the converted, it remains to be seen whether his case will make waves outside the established Stronger In camp.