Yesterday I sat with a friend watching Theresa May’s speech. She indicated she wants us to leave the European single market and be a ‘Global Britain’. She said that if EU leaders don’t give us a brilliant deal in return for very little money and no free movement, she will turn our island into a Britapore tax haven. Whilst listening to a speech so full of huge misunderstandings about Europe, I felt a surge of love and gratitude towards Europe.
It is Europe that has directed money to projects in Cornwall, Wales and Northern Ireland (helping to stabilise peace there) when Westminster wasn’t interested. It is Europe that has enabled us to maintain an influence in the world that is greater than our size. It is Europe that has moved us from the 1970s 3 day week, no rubbish-collecting country where we bought olive oil from the pharmacy and only ate milk chocolate to the vibrant culture that we have today. It is Europe that has protected our farming industry and enabled our services industries to thrive as the go-to advisers for deals and disputes across the EU.
It is not Europe that did not share the wealth of London around our regions or to all our citizens. It is not Europe that makes up crazy laws but that keeps our laws and regulations meeting environmental protection, workers’ rights and consumer standards that we all need. It is not Europe that has failed to end zero-hours contracts in the UK. It is not Europe that decides how much we spend on our schools or the NHS. It is not even Europe that has set all the UK rules on EU immigration. Ok the EU is not perfect, but it is not the EU that rules us, but we who contribute to ruling our continent with others. Whatever flaws it has, it is up to us to work to correct them.
Isolationism is what Theresa May is pursuing, not some brave new world of opportunity. We could increase our trade with India, China, the USA or anywhere else within existing arrangements, we just haven’t bothered to. I am angry, I am depressed and I am -when all is said and done- heart-broken because my government is forcing me to divorce my own continent. Publicly, we are not to be married in the same deep way. In short, we are not even to be Norway; we are to be Canada. And yet, we are European and some of us will never stop loving Europe or the European Project.