Paean to Europe
Rick Early, passionate European, shows how European co-operation goes so much wider than trade. Born from the noblest of ideals the EU provides a mechanism where countries collaborate because they know that working together they will achieve more than on their own. Brexiteers wish to throw that away out of some 19th century Imperial fantasy. Our politicians should summon the courage to arrange a referendum on the terms of Brexit so that the same people who decided on the concept may vote on whether they like its execution.
During my years living in Ireland an American friend elected to take Irish citizenship. In all honesty I couldn’t see the point of it at the time though I’m sure he had his good reasons. Fast forward 25 years I now wish I had done the same. How could I have known then that the country of my birth would come to embark on a voyage of such self-harm, called Brexit, that I would live to regret that opportunity.
I love Europe, the place. This wonderful collection of civilisations packed into a small continent. This repository of culture: music, art, literature, architecture, classical precepts of philosophy, mathematics, reasoned debate and early concepts of democracy. And I also love Europe, the European Union. This fantastic club of nations, born out of the noblest ideals – to prevent war ever again amongst its countries, its neighbours. How it has grown into the largest trading bloc in the world. A veritable continent-wide free trade zone. Free of duties, tariffs, quotas. Where goods and services and people zip backwards and forwards smoothly, without let or hindrance.
But it is so much more than a trading partnership. We collaborate and co-operate with one another across all areas of endeavour. Be it environmental policy, security, research and development, open skies air travel, space exploration. The list goes on and on. We pool our tangible and intellectual resources knowing that the group of nations working together achieves so much more than the one nation toiling on its own.
Yet this is what Brexiteers seek. To leave a major trading block and go it alone. A move which is unique in world affairs. Which flies in the face of normal and logical practice in which in this globalised world countries aspire to closer co-operation. Brexiteers say they want to be able to negotiate their own trade deals. It is a major reason for wanting to quit the EU. They should be careful of what they wish for. The EU has negotiated preferential trading agreements with around 60 other countries. The most recent of which is with Japan, a major world economy. In addition the EU is currently in negotiations to set up trade agreements with around 70 other countries. When we leave the EU we will become a third country. This means we will no longer be party to these trade agreements. In other words we will have to renegotiate, from scratch, trade agreements with around 130 countries worldwide, like the one the EU has just concluded with Japan after many years of negotiations. These negotiations are complex accords and do in fact take years to conclude. And to think that one country on its own could be as powerful a negotiator as a bloc of 28 countries is delusional. Of course, there is one more trade agreement Britain will have to conclude and that is the one with our former European partners. We haven’t even started that yet. And that is when we will really have to put in the hard yards.
So, to recap, Brexiteers wish to leave an organisation with which we have great trading arrangements with many countries around the world so that we can spend years renegotiating with these countries in order to eventually get back to something like the trade agreements we enjoy now, but not as good as the ones we enjoy now.
There’s logic and there’s madness. And that thinking just isn’t logical.
Two cultural conditions drive some Brexiteers. Some simply are wary of foreigners (a stance of course not in any way confined to Britain). Yet there doesn’t appear to be any correlation between anti-foreigner sentiments and levels of immigration as percentage rates for leaving the EU in the referendum are often higher in areas of relatively low immigration. It is claimed that ‘immigrants are taking our jobs’. Yet has an employer ever taken a job away from a British person and given it to an immigrant? Called them into the office and said they were giving their job to a Polish/Romanian/Latvian instead? I don’t think so. But what has happened, time and time again, is that immigrants have taken employment that British people don’t want, or are not qualified, to do. Areas like fruit picking, catering and hospitality and the NHS, are just a few.
Like EU membership, immigration has strengthened our Britain’s economy.
The second cultural condition informing Brexit is a residual mentality from colonial times. The idea that we don’t need the world, but they sure as heck need us. In their minds the empire loyalists still see Johnny foreigner beating a path to Britain’s door. This mentality, stuck for ever in the 19thcentury, can’t tolerate the notion that we have equals with whom we should co-operate for our mutual good. The empire loyalist still believes in his heart of hearts that the global map is coloured largely pink. Though the days of Empire are thankfully long behind us those notions remain etched in the gene memory of the Brexiteer and inform his every thought.
Other nationals look at us and shake their heads in disbelief at the direction we are travelling. What credit still attaching to the British for their stand against Fascism in the 1940s has gone. The lingering gratitude for remaining free from the Nazis, for remaining a beacon of hope for occupied Europe is gone. The respect has gone, replaced by pity and yes, probably, derision.
Craven politicians and journalists in Britain have abrogated responsibility since the vote to leave in 2016. How many times do we hear a politician say ‘well, I voted Remain but I respect the will of the people and I shall work tirelessly to implement it’, or words to that effect? Manifold times. And how many times have the journalists challenged them, skewered them on their false logic and hypocrisy. Demanded to understand how a political representative could turn themselves inside out in order to do the opposite of what they believe in now that the people have spoken. How many times have these chameleons been challenged by those whose job it is to do just that? None, so far as I can see.
So this painful farce rumbles on along the road to perdition, driven by arrogance, prejudice and ultimately madness. Save for a few sane voices here and there the lunatics have veritably taken over the asylum. Unstopped and seemingly unstoppable it has come to this. A cliff edge, or more likely a slow fetid drowning in a morass of hubris. The end of Empire indeed.
But it didn’t have to be. The vote in 2016 was only advisory. It had no legal status. The result should have been declared null and void anyway as it was bought on lies and funding that contravened Electoral Commission rules. How can it have been democratic to give the people a vote on a concept, namely in or out of the EU, but not democratic to give the people a vote on the details of the separation agreement? It’s an intellectual nonsense to argue otherwise.
Both main parties, save as I said for a few courageous voices, have shown cowardice in the face of ‘the will of the people’. No attempt to explain and champion the advantages of a political and economic union which has made all our lives better in so many ways. No, from them a deafening silence as they squirm in their hollow frames. As T S Eliot wrote:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw.
Even at this late hour, sanity may finally break out and we will have a referendum on a no-deal Brexit, a soft Brexit, or remaining in the EU – the best deal of all. And if Remain wins it will be the ‘will of the people’ so nothing to worry about eh Brexiteers, and apologists for Brexit. We know how much you respect the ‘will of the people’. You have nothing to fear.
Ulimately, do I have an uncritical respect for the European Union? Possibly. What forces that have been working on me since my beginnings, that have given me this love for Europe I cannot say. I’m sure the EU can be improved. There isn’t an organisation, or person on Earth which cannot be improved. If reforms are needed then that’s what you do. Address the problems and find solutions. After the bath you throw out the dirty water, but you never, never let go of that precious baby.
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