In an exclusive interview with BasNews, Charles Tannock, a British politician and member of the European Parliament discusses the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, the migration crisis, the role of the UK in the anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition as well as the genocide of Kurdish Yazidis by IS.
BasNews: In a time when the EU is dealing with severe migration crisis, how can UK's remaining help the union cope with the impasse?
Tannock: The migration crisis has certainly tested the EU and its principle of solidarity. In many ways, however, this has bolstered the vision articulated by the UK for many years concerning the direction of the EU. An EU that values subsidiarity, accepts the limits of intervention and respects Member States as the key building blocks of the project. The migration crisis has pushed these ideas to the fore and Britain should remain a member to champion them from within. Nevertheless the UK has participated in the naval mission of NATO and CSDP EUNAVFOR Med Operation Sophia to combat people trafficking, which impacts the UK as well.
BasNews: UK has already denied to be included in the Schengen Zone, and it is not using EU's currency (Euro), so what has made other EU members to insist upon UK's remaining in the union?
Tannock: I think that this reflects not only that the EU is more flexible and varied than many give it credit for but primarily that the UK has much to offer. As the fifth largest economy in the world, a member of the P5, home to the world's leading financial centre and able to boast of strong diplomatic and defence, including nuclear weapons, capabilities, Britain has been a counterweight to the traditional French-German axis of the EU. Such a balance is welcomed not only by the smaller Member States but by the French and Germans. The UK is also contributes 8% of the EU budget as the 2nd largest net contributor.
BasNews: Comparing to other western EU countries, the UK has taken in fewer refugees, can this be interpreted as the first step towards exiting EU?
Tannock: Not at all. The UK has never signed up to be a member of Schengen nor the Common Immigration and Asylum policy, and this has allowed the UK Government to set its own policies. The geographic component cannot be ignored either, in that it is much easier for migrants to reach Germany, Austria and Sweden in order to claim asylum than it is to cross the channel to enter the UK.
BasNews: UK Conservative Party representatives in the European Parliament have expressed their unwillingness to participate in another ground war after the failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, if the referendum votes in favor of UK's exit from EU, will that mean exiting the International Coalition in the fight against IS as well?
Tannock: The UK Government is a full and active member of the coalition in the fight against ISIS and this will not change regardless of the result in the referendum. I think that it is natural for politicians to be hesitant in committing ground forces following the results of recent interventions but that does not mean that the UK will not and should not put its military capabilities to good use. I welcome the strong role that the UK has taken in contributing to air strikes but I believe that more could be done to provide medical assistance, weapons, and equipment to the KRG peshmergas for instance.
BasNews: PM Cameron previously stated that if they will remain in the EU, they will not let Turkey joint the union, how will UK react to the Refuge Deal between EU and Turkey if UK decides to stay within EU?
Tannock: This statement is incorrect in that the official Conservative Party policy has for many years been in favour of Turkey joining the EU. I have always been personally sceptical of this uncritical position and there is now a shifting view in this direction within the Conservative Party. The deal between the EU and Turkey is however one of the key levers in dealing with the migrant crisis and enjoys the support of London and there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of people reaching Greece in recent weeks. It is important also to remember that one of the key issues of the deal concerns visa liberalisation for Turkey, which is one that does not affect the UK as we are not a member of Schengen and so arrange our own visa deals with third countries.
BasNews: The UK Parliament has recognized the IS atrocities against the Yazidi Kurds as genocide last month, will UK treat refugees that were victims of this genocide differently than other refugees entering UK through EU?
Tannock: I was very pleased to see that the UK Parliament voted in favour of recognising the atrocities committed by ISIS against Yezidis and Christians as genocide. I have been calling for the UN Security Council to refer this issue to the International Criminal Court for over a year now and believe that this is a step in the right direction. The UK Government has agreed to take up to 20,000 carefully screened refugees up until 2020 from refugee camps in the region. There aren't any specific provisions to favour Christians and Yezidis, since the criteria set out talks of taking the most vulnerable, irrespective of ethnicity or religion.