My Love Letter to Europe

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.

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Retention of EU Citizenship: An Azure Blue and Gold Stars Plan

During one of the many arguments I have had with my mother since the UK’s EU referendum last June, we came face to face in my kitchen weighing out red lentils for a Rose Elliot lentil gratin recipe. My mother was telling me the imperial measurements while I was trying to weigh them on a metric set of scales. When I half joked that if the government decides we all have to use imperial measurements after Brexit, I am really going to lose it she said to me “I do not understand it, your mother is British, your father was British why don’t you feel British?” I replied that I feel European, and then tried to “soften” that to “I am British and European”. Both our identities are, of course, constructs, hers one derived from being born in 1940 and mine from being born in 1975.

As many commentators and politicians have accepted, the need to deliver a Brexit for 100% of the UK is critical. As AC Grayling has pointed out extensively, 63% of the electorate and 74% of the population of the United Kingdom did not vote Leave and yet leaving the European Union may well (absent specific provision in the Brexit deal) lead to the deprivation of our EU citizenship. Elizabeth Mountford QC made the same point in the Supreme Court on behalf of the crowd funded litigants. Just because the over 45s do not feel the same, they should still be encouraged to understand where the majority of the under 45s are coming from. In that way, the differences between us can be seen to be less ones of rejection or acceptance of a particular view and actually more a product of our age and identity.

At the heart of Brexit is a problem, namely that the success of the Red, White and Blue Plan requires the under 45s to get behind it and make it work. Theresa May has now made it crystal clear that she favours a hard Brexit outside of the single market. Assuming the government manages to agree a plan between themselves and then persuades the EU that it is a good one for each of its 27 Member States, then it still has to bring the working engine of the UK with it.

Many over 45s in this country do not identify strongly as being European. 56% of 45-54 year olds, 57% of 56 to 64 year olds and 60% of 65 and overs voting in the Referendum, voted Leave. Whereas, the majority of us born in particular after 1972, feel profoundly that we are both British and European and voted accordingly. This may be dismissed by those who do not share that identity and via the self-serving current rhetoric of right-wing politicians, most notably Theresa May who crowed at the 2016 Conservative party conference that “if you consider yourself a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. This is not, however, the vision of the majority of younger citizens in this country who can incorporate concepts of mixed nationality (both national and supranational) into their own identities. Many have families of mixed nationalities. As Kwame Anthony Appiah argued in answer to questions put to him by the audience in his BBC Reith Lecture on Country in October 2016, this is the demographic of the future and to deny it is to alienate whole parts of your population (particularly the younger population).

Neither is this an issue simply for the wealthy. Voter analysis of the Referendum demonstrates it was people with degrees and professional jobs who were more likely to vote Remain, as were people who have a passport- Earnings data also shows that areas with higher median incomes tended to lean Remain, whilst lower incomes leaned Leave but it does not mean that all lower income citizens voted Leave. Also, anecdotally, many of us know wealthy over 45s who voted Leave.

The deprivation the young feel over the Referendum result could, however, be alleviated by a plan dreamed up by the EU parliamentarians and technocrats. It is also a plan that has caught the imagination of many UK citizens. Charles Goerens, a Luxembourg MEP, proposed that UK citizens should be able to retain their EU citizenship. The limitation with this is that it requires a Treaty change. The idea has now been moved up the political agenda, however, and is reportedly to be offered by Donald Tusk as part of the Brexit negotiations. What incentive, however, does Theresa May have to accept this proposal? It is the incentive that it will heal some of the Referendum wounds and alleviate some of the alienation being experienced by the under 45s in this country who feel deprived of a birth-right by a small minority. Those who voted Leave would also have the option to retain their citizenship so it cannot be said to be divisive.

What is European citizenship? A concept introduced by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union [1992], it entails the right:
• To non-discrimination on the basis of nationality when the Treaty applies
• To move and reside freely within the EU
• To vote for and stand as a candidate in European Parliament and municipal elections
• To be protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities of any other EU country
• To petition the European Parliament and complain to the European Ombudsman
• To contact and receive a response from any EU institution in one of the EU’s official languages
• To access European Parliament, European Commision and Council documents under certain conditions

While a plan to retain EU citizenship does not do anything to limit the economic damage this country is likely to suffer if it is forced to leave membership of the single market and the Customs Union, it will salvage something for UK citizens from the wreckage of Brexit and keep the flame alive of what have been 40 years of beneficial and transformative EU membership. Many of us believe in the European project and at a time of geo-political instability and the retrenching of the USA into its national concerns, we would like the ability to bolster it in some small way with our ongoing support. You may have a Red, White and Blue Plan, Mrs May, but many of us would like to add in the colours of the European Union. We were born and live in the continent of Europe and if you want to bring us all with you, help those of us who want it to retain the citizenship that is central to our identity.

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Lasting Peace in Europe

When Churchill looked at what was unfolding in Europe in the 1950s, he didn’t have any particular feeling of rancour, or regret, or exclusion. On the contrary, he looked at the developing plans for a common market with a paternal pride. It was his idea to bring these countries together, to bind them so indissolubly that they would never go to war again — and who can deny, today, that this idea has been a spectacular success?

The author of this eloquent paragraph, penned in 2014, is Boris Johnson. How strange that he spent most of 2016 contradicting his own verdict by doing his utmost to undermine British support for the European Union!

It is enormously worrying that anyone – especially someone who has been so prominent in shaping public views in Britain about the European Union – has the gall to perform such a somersault, but it is not the first time that he has contradicted himself and probably not the last.

In 2012, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union for its role in the “advancement of peace and reconciliation. democracy and human rights”. The decision was welcomed by all European leaders, but Boris branded it as an act of “madness”, noting that “the EU’s part in creating peace in Europe has long been exaggerated, and I am afraid its signature policy is now in danger of producing the exact opposite”.

So, within just four years, he performed a double somersault on the EU’s contribution to peace. Perhaps he was inspired by his mentor, Winston Churchill, who was adept at changing sides when he saw this to be to his advantage!

Our purpose is not to dwell on Boris Johnson’s acrobatic skills, but to stress on how vital it is to prolong Europe’s 70 years of peace, to consider how the EU contributes to conflict reduction and to assess current threats to peace.

The longer we have peace, the more we seem to take it for granted. I still find it horrific that my father had to fight in two world wars before he was fifty. He fought in the trenches of the Somme when just 18 years old. He was fighting again – and wounded – in Europe just over 20 years later after Britain, under Churchill’s leadership, entered the second world war to combat the rise of fascism in Germany and in Europe more generally.

Like so many others of his age, my father seldom talked about his wartime experiences, for they were bound to revive painful memories. My wife, however, still vividly recalls her mother’s grieving when news came that her husband – my wife’s father – had died when his ship was sunk by a mine just after the formal end of the World War ll. I have witnessed the immediate aftermath of wars in Bangladesh, between Iran and Iraq, in Angola and in Sierra Leone, and this has helped me realise how lucky I have been to have passed most of my 74 years in peace. It is natural that our greatest wish is that our children and grandchild should never suffer the horrors of war that blighted our parents’ lives and have caused so much death and destruction elsewhere in the world. We see the European Union, in spite of its many imperfections, as the best guarantor of our offspring’s safety.

If Britain walks away from the EU, it undoubtedly increases the risks of a return to war in Europe. I hope that I am wrong about this, but I see two emerging threats to peace. The first comes from the weakening and possible collapse of the institutions of the European Union. The second stems from the rapid emergence of neo-fascist movements in several leading European countries, including in England.

The EU has lots of faults, many of which have rightly been aired in the referendum process. Surprisingly little, however. has been said about its success in bringing together 28 nations, many formerly at war with each other and some recently freed from dictatorship and communism. The very existence of the EU is an extraordinary achievement that bridges the deep divisions of ethnicity, history, culture, tradition, religion and language that have so often sparked conflicts in the past. Founded on the basis of common values, it has created and is constantly updating a framework of agreed behaviours and standards, whether these relate to human rights, trade, security, access to health services, the protection of natural resources, energy use, climate change and so on. It has also contributed enormously to expanding collaborative research to find solutions to problems that transcend national borders, and it has fostered student exchanges that add to a sense of belonging to Europe amongst the young.

Many of these activities and related arbitration procedures prevent and help to resolve potential disputes and they ease inter-country cooperation in so many fields of activity. Importantly, as the processes of globalization move forward, members of the Union, acting collectively, have a much stronger say than they can have as individual countries in shaping the management of world affairs in the interests of peace and prosperity.

Ultimately, however, Europe’s peace is sustained by mutual trust and open dialogue. The greatest safeguard for peace lies not in the ability to engage in military action but in the frequent coming together around the same table of the heads of government of all member nations. But this same model of intergovernmental coordination and the engagement of interested parties, is replicated every day in all areas of governance touched by the EU, leading (not always easily or even quickly) to the emergence of consensus. These are the processes which serve as the glue that binds Europe together.

If Britain leaves the EU, it will continue to be influenced by its decisions, but will no longer be able defend its interests in the many decision-making processes. The departure of one of its most influential members is bound also to weaken many aspects of the Union’s work, including all that it does to prevent conflict and to maintain security within its borders.

The EU’s greatest strength – that of bringing so many diverse nations together to address common problems – is also the main source of its vulnerability. By its very nature, decision-making will be cumbersome, and some countries are bound to feel that it cares too little for their special interests or intrudes too much on their sovereignty. It has become all too easy for members to blame the EU for many of the problems they face, even when these are home-made!

The architects of the current renaissance of fascism in much of Europe are the Union’s most vicious critics because they know that there is no place for extremism in an institution so deeply committed to democratic principles and human rights. The greatest current threat to peace in Europe is the potential emergence of a neo-fascist government in one or more of its member states because the EU would be bound to expel them, with unpredictable consequences.

One of the gravest dilemmas posed by the EU referendum result is that the “leave” victory owes much to UKIP, Britain’s emergent neo-fascist party.  In the name of democracy, the campaign unleashed a wave of hate crimes, xenophobia and verbal thuggery that contrasts with the natural tolerance and understanding of most British people. The leading Brexit campaigners from outside of UKIP continue to play with fire in order to assure their victory. In so doing, they have aided and abetted the fortunes of extremists who stand for the evils from which our parents and grandparents risked their lives to protect us.

Perhaps, if Boris would reflect on these matters, he might perform a third somersault. Could he not admit, as Churchill might well have done, that, for the future of our children, the big issue is not the single market, the free movement of people or curbing the power of Brussels bureaucrats but the assurance of continued peace in Europe through stopping nascent fascism in its tracks? Given the trans-national nature of today’s neo-fascism, only the collective resolve of all of Europe’s nations can halt it, and this requires that Britain retains its seat at the table.

The Future of Our Children