The most important issue of my, my children, and their childrens’ generations and I can’t stand listening to the politicians anymore – claim and rebuttal, distortion and division – it does none of them any credit. I do however accept and welcome the fact that if every leader of all the serious political parties say it is beneficial for the UK to stay in Europe – we should stay IN. If every serious economic body (including the Bank of England, not to mention the behaviour of the London Stock Exchange) says it would put our economy at risk if we left the EU – we should REMAIN.
But it is not these people and bodies that convince me, and always has, that we are an integral part of Europe, and should have been ever since the end of WWII. For me it’s a personal and philosophical thing that transcends any national identity or sovereignty – after all I’m English-born, half-Scots, and have lived in Wales for most of my life.
With devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – all of whom recognise the importance of staying IN – this to me becomes essentially an England problem, just like the lack of an English parliament is an England created problem. They like to believe that the UK is homogeneous – that everyone is just like them. They aren’t. The nations of the UK are different and will increasingly be more different , and do you know what – it doesn’t matter, we are able to accommodate our differences … well most of the time. A Brexit vote however will only lead to a break-up of the UK with Wales surely following Scotland in calls for independence and for their application for membership of the EU as new sovereign states.
It was however this post on Facebook from a person who I don’t know (Geoffrey White) on May 18th that put my feelings into words, which I will include here – I hope (if he ever reads this) he won’t mind me quoting his very eloquent testament …
“Some of my friends and relations have told me they will vote for Brexit in our referendum. At the risk of falling out with them I intend to vote for us to remain in the EU. Here’s a bit of pre-EU history to help explain my position.
I grew up in a time of post-war austerity. My country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was broke and virtually in ruins. Germans were still “the enemy” in children’s games. Bomb sites and abandoned air-raid shelters were our playgrounds. Nine years after the war ended butter, meat and sugar were still rationed. One couldn’t buy sweets without coupons issued by the government.
Portugal and Spain were fascist dictatorships. In Spain unauthorised gatherings of more than 3 people were illegal. A military junta later seized power in Greece. Half of Europe was sealed off behind the Iron Curtain. I remember lying in bed at night, in my parents home, and hearing the roar of American warplanes flying overhead on their Cold War missions. We were told that, if the Russians unleashed their missiles, we would get 4 minutes’ warning of Armageddon.
In Britain our currency was weak. We had exchange controls. Travellers were allowed to take only £25 sterling out of the country plus a limited amount in foreign currency. On return, any left over had to be sold back to an authorised trader. The details were entered in one’s passport.
The UK still had the death penalty despite some obvious and irreversible miscarriages of justice. In France they still executed condemned prisoners by cutting their heads off. In Spain they used strangulation.
The press and the BBC, (there was only the BBC), were not free from government interference and books, films and plays were censored. Women were paid less than men for equivalent work and landlords could turn away black and Irish people with impunity. For private acts of “gross indecency” gay men were sent to prison.
During the 1950s, six similarly devastated European countries were determined that the catastrophe of war between them should never be repeated. They decided to work towards creating a single European economy. The result was never “just a trading agreement” as some detractors now suggest. The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, provided for free movement of goods, services, people and capital, with the stated aim of “closer relations between the States”.
The UK was invited to participate from the outset, but Prime Minister Attlee rather scornfully declined, thus missing the opportunity to influence the future development of Europe. However, by 1961 it had become obvious that the economies of “the Six”, (France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg), were growing faster than ours, so we applied to join. It took 9 years of negotiations, (and 2 vetoes), before terms were agreed. The United Kingdom officially joined the European Communities on 1st January 1973.
In the 1980s many of our skilled workers took advantage of the free movement of people and migrated to West Germany, whose economy had already overtaken ours. These British ” migrants” were the inspiration for a popular television series, “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”.
Since 1945 there have been wars in Europe, but none between countries that were members of the European Union. Despite global economic storms, the EU’s citizens in 28 independent countries enjoy greater prosperity and greater freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, freedom from conflict, freedom to trade across borders and freedom of expression than at any time in history.
So far no member state has ever applied to leave the EU. There have always been candidates to join but to succeed they must have democracy, the rule of law, a market economy and guarantees for the protection of minorities and human rights. They also need the support of ALL existing members, including us, without which they cannot join. In my opinion it would be a shame if Britain were to turn its back on Europe, give up its voice and influence, and opt for an uncertain future. So…I shall vote IN on 23rd June.”
That just about says it all for me, but I’d also add that all conflicts appear to me to be about what makes people different – the need for sovereignty, the desire to “control our own affairs”, the supreme importance of “our thoughts”, “our beliefs”, “our culture” – rather than recognising the value of the differences and working at how those differences can be accommodated and extended to benefit everyone and how integration (where necessary) can be achieved. This in an age where globalisation has made national boundaries meaningless and where the only meaningful and hopeful way to exist is through co-operation and partnership.
A very good example (from USDAW) of such co-operation, where workers rights have been harmonised, is shown below.
Of course there are faults in the EU, but there are many more in the UK which are UK-made, not Europe-made. We can’t blame the EU for our failed welfare system, our failed housing system, our failing health system, our failed ethnic minority integration polices and our failing town and city centres. [Just go to Europe and see what a bustling and vibrant market looks like – every day of the week with fresh food of every shape and size readily available.]
So my wish is to be part of a new Europe – one that we will help to fashion and change, much as we would have done if we’d been a founder member in 1961. I don’t want the departure of the UK from the EU to be the spark that sets off the departure of other states from the Union fuelled by other right-wing political party agendas and ideologies that could lead to conflict and division in the future.
I want Britain to be strong and for the British voters to say we have considered the issue and want to work in partnership with our fellow European nations, working together as equals, whilst recognising our differences and separate cultural identities and celebrating the differences and the value of being as one, as well.