David Miliband: Brexit Would Leave UK Like ‘a Cork Bobbing in a Rough Ocean’

He shared his thoughts on the global refugee crisis, the upcoming Brexit vote.

ByABC News
June 21, 2016, 5:31 PM

— -- David Miliband, president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the former secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs of the United Kingdom, shared his thoughts on the global refugee crisis, the upcoming Brexit vote, and the threat of ISIS to global security in a wide-ranging interview with ABC.

ABC: We first have to ask about the frightening killing of Jo Cox, a member of British Parliament. You called it “unspeakable” on Twitter. How can things like this be prevented? Do MPs need more security?

MILIBAND: I didn’t know Jo Cox well, but she was clearly an exceptional, effervescent person. The great thing about democratic politics is the engagement with the people. Obviously it’s important to look at security measures but it’s also important to address the wider question of the degree of vitriol that’s associated with politics. Democratic politics involves a lot of hard argument but one of the things about Jo Cox’s life is that she showed how to be passionate without being vitriolic, and I think that’s important.

ABC: The killing of Cox comes as the UK prepares to vote in just a few days on whether or not to leave the European Union. You have come out against an exit, aka “Brexit.” Do you fear the consequences of an exit? And what does it tell you that so many folks are in favor of an exit?

MILIBAND: I think there’s a positive case for Britain in Europe. We were the slowest growing economy in the G7 (the group of seven leading industrialized countries) before we joined and we’ve been the fastest growing since we joined in the 1970s. The EU magnifies and multiples political power. It’s also a source of labor rights across the EU. So, the economic, the political and the social arguments I think are very strong indeed. The negative case, and this is not to project fear, it is to project fact, is that to pull out of the EU would leave us as a cork bobbing in a rough ocean. I think it is very important to make clear that that case is put before the British people. I think there’s a positive side to this but there’s also a realistic fact-based set of warnings and when the exit camps say don’t believe the experts, my immediate thought is that if you’re having a heart operation, you’d definitely want an expert to do it. And so the assault on reason is something that is not just in British politics but elsewhere too.

ABC: Turning now to the refugee crisis, speaking to German reporters the Dalai Lama recently said that Europe has accepted “too many refugees,” and later added "Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country." Can a country admit too many refugees, and should refugees be expected to assimilate their new country’s culture?

MILIBAND: I think it’s very important that all countries take their fair share of refugees. The vast bulk of refugees are in poor countries, not rich countries. If you think about Turkey (2.7 million refugees), Lebanon (1.7 million), Jordan (650,000) and Uganda (500,000), these are relatively poor countries and a lot of the noise in rich countries doesn’t recognize the burdens that are being born. I think it is very important that they are widely shared but it’s also obviously very important that refugees do integrate. Now they can’t integrate if they are sealed off in a refugee camp, which is why the future needs to be about employment and recognition that while host communities need support to cope with new arrivals, refugees are best off being contributors to society and not sealed off in camps.

ABC: You recently said refugees will either come to Europe in an “illegal dangerous way” or in an “orderly, legal and organized fashion.” How is the IRC working to persuade European countries to do the latter?

MILIBAND: We think it’s very important to take our experience, both in the Middle East where we are working on the Syrian crisis inside Syria and in the neighboring states, and our experience in the US of refugee resettlement, to say two things. First of all, you have to organize the flow at source. You have to work to improve humanitarian conditions in the countries from which Syrian refugees have come. Secondly, Europe needs to be well organized in the way it welcomes, screens and assesses the refugee claims of those who arrive. And if there is no route to hope from the Middle East, then people will turn to the smugglers and that’s what’s happened.

ABC: We won’t ask you to comment on the politics of the 2016 presidential election in the United States, but we do want to ask about presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s policy proposal to temporarily ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering the United States. How does this impact the work the IRC does?

MILIBAND: I think that there are two things to say about the debate in the presidential campaign. One, America has a successful refugee resettlement policy. It is the right thing to do, it’s also a practical and smart thing to do. Since 9/11, 750,000 refugees have come to the US and they are contributors to American society. It’s very important to explain that there is the most robust security vetting of refugees; it’s harder to get to the US as a refugee than through any other status. The second thing to say is that America sends a message to the world by the way in which it welcomes people from different corners of the earth. The last thing that ISIS wants is for America to be a good example of a multi-faith, multicultural society and I hope that’s remembered in the course of the campaign.

ABC: Monday, June 20 was World Refugee Day. What does this day symbolize and how can people get involved if they are not already?

MILIBAND: World Refugee Day was created in 2001 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 UN convention on refugees. It’s a day for education about the facts of refugee resettlement but also for celebration of what refugees contribute. I hope that people reading this will go to the IRC website and learn about our work but also volunteer in their local office; we work in 29 US cities and it would be great to have people as mentors to provide support to refugee arrivals. It would be very beneficial if we can show that there is as much, if not more, love and support for refugees as there is fear and misunderstanding.

Editor’s Note: Answers in this interview have been edited for clarity.