Coronavirus shows British–EU solidarity vital, say ambassadors

The coronavirus pandemic underlines the need for greater international solidarity, including more cooperation between Britain and the rest of Europe, all 27 European Union ambassadors and high commissioners to the UK have asserted in an unprecedented joint statement.

The statement celebrating Europe Day also represents a reassertion of EU unity and the continuing relevance of European values within the UK.

The self-confident statement, published in the Guardian, comes as negotiations on the terms of a new trading relationship between Europe and the UK hit difficulties. The talks must be resolved by the end of the year. The EU’s trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, warned on Thursday that the UK was preparing to walk away from Brexit trade talks and blame the coronavirus.

Europe Day, additional to VE day, marks the moment 70 years ago when Robert Schuman, the foreign minister of France, in a landmark speech laid the foundations for the European Union as a response to the devastation of the second world war that had ended five years earlier.

It is the first Europe Day anniversary since the UK left the EU.

The 27 ambassadors, along with the new EU ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, seemed determined to argue that the case for international solidarity at the heart of their project has only become more relevant not just in the EU, but also in the UK.

The ambassadors wrote: “For anyone who may have doubted that a close future partnership between the UK and the EU is of mutual interest, the ongoing health emergency has certainly provided ample food for thought. Indeed, in today’s globalised, interconnected and interdependent world, cooperation among nations and states – and peoples – is essential.”

One ambassador said of the statement: “This is not about getting British people to change the referendum decision, but just to say we are not ashamed of what we represent, and have much in common with the British people.”

The statement said the ambassadors regretted but fully respected the UK’s decision to leave the EU, though it also reasserted their belief that European nation states, proud of their individual histories, are “stronger together”.

They wrote: “After progressively enlarging its scope, both politically and geographically, the EU became the biggest single market and the most important provider of development and humanitarian aid in the world, a true global actor committed to effective multilateralism.”

Asserting the continuing relevance of Europe Day to Britain, the ambassadors said that “the UK made a significant contribution to European achievements before and during its 47 years of membership of the EU.

“It is thus only natural for us to celebrate Europe Day also with the British people, its workers and entrepreneurs, its researchers, its teachers and scholars, its artists, its farmers and fishermen, its doctors and nurses. Today, our thoughts go out particularly to the victims of Covid-19 and their families and to all of the dedicated care and frontline workers around the country.

“In our cities, towns and villages, on both sides of the Channel, we have been witnessing an outpouring of dedication, kindness and altruism. It should not come as a surprise: solidarity is indeed part of our DNA, in the European Union as in the United Kingdom. EU nationals employed by the NHS have worked tirelessly, side by side with their British colleagues, to save lives since the outbreak of the pandemic. An EU repatriation programme helped almost 2,000 British citizens stranded around the globe to return home safely”.

Although the EU stumbled badly at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, resorting to national solutions and rowing over plans for collectivising national debt, the ambassadors insisted that their project is valid. They also insisted that Schuman’s dream has gradually come to fruition, “enabling many countries and millions of Europeans to enjoy freedom, democracy, fundamental rights and high standards of living, in what historians will register as the longest period of peace in our part of the world for many centuries”.

This article was amended on 9 May 2020. The original incorrectly stated that Robert Schuman’s landmark speech that laid the foundations for the European Union was made 50 years ago. The speech was, in fact, given 70 years ago.