A Healing Process

A Healing Process

The morning after I had spent a day in hospital having a hernia operation, I shared some reflections on my first visit to an operating theatre in the ultra-modern facilities of our local public hospital. The experience reinforced my admiration for EHIC – the European Health Insurance Card – which provides for free reciprocal collaboration between European health services, including the NHS. I learnt that over 27 million EHIC cards have been issued by the NHS in Britain, but, worryingly, that there is no certainty that they will remain valid if there is a no-deal Brexit.

When I woke up this morning after a couple of days of discomfort and tiredness, I felt little pain, had an appetite for a good breakfast – including a delicious slice of plum tart, freshly baked by a neighbour “to aid my convalescence” – and felt more energetic. Our neighbour also brought me a flask of home-made wine, proposing it as a pain-reliever.

All this prompted me to marvel about the extraordinary capacity that our bodies contain to heal themselves after traumas, rebuilding damaged tissue, veins and skin. Mine was a small trauma but clearly the process was moving forward rapidly automatically.

When societies have been through traumatic periods, they, too have an in-built capacity to heal their divisions which grows as people become tired of conflict. The very fact that we can, as British citizens, feel welcome to live here in Italy, a country with which we were at war when I was born, is testimony of the capacity of former enemies to engage in reconciliation, rebuilding of trust and participation in joint action for the common good.

My most vivid exposure to national healing processes took place just over 20 years ago in Angola as the country moved towards the formation of what was to turn out to be a short-lived Government of National Unity and Reconciliation. As leader of a small international team trying to foster the emergence of a consensus between the two warring parties on future agricultural and rural development policies, I landed on a small strip near Bailundo, the UNITA headquarters. My Angolan colleague, who worked for the government side, took about ten minutes to summon the courage to come out of the plane. Within minutes, he found himself hugging members of the reception team, several of whom had been childhood friends but had ended up on different sides in a futile war.

Most of us naturally abhor conflict and so it is surprising how easily we can get drawn into it and how difficult it is to return to a situation in which we can go about our normal lives at ease. Fortunately, the people of Britain are not in open conflict. But the way in which the 2016 EU referendum was conducted stoked up tensions between us, even within families and amongst neighbours, in spite of the fact that the nature of our relationship with other European countries had not, until then, been an issue of the slightest concern to most of us. During campaigning and after the referendum result, there has been a rise in xenophobia and in the incidence of hate crimes which have made many foreigners who have been living and working in Britain for years – just as we reside in Italy – feel less welcome.

The impression we get – albeit from a distance – is that the majority of British people would love to see their lives return to the normality of four years ago. The problem is how to trigger this de-escalation of tensions, especially when there is no agreement amongst our leading politicians and our MPs on what kind of future relationship we should have with our European neighbours.

It is encouraging that May and Corbyn have been jointly exploring a way forward. However, it is unlikely that they will come to an agreement unless they both have the courage to admit that they have looked at all Brexit options but have concluded that there is none that can offer the country a brighter future than staying as we are and having a voice in making decisions which, if only for geographical reasons, are bound to affect us. If they have the guts to stand up to the vocal extremists in each of their parties and put their conclusion to a public vote, they will learn whether they have correctly properly interpreted the current will of the majority of the people who now have a better idea of the likely consequences of different ways forward.

A week ago, Jeremy Corbyn hinted that this was the way in which he was thinking when he said “we should include the option of having a ballot on a public vote on the outcome of the talks and negotiations on what we’re putting forward. I would want that to be seen as a healing process and bringing this whole process to a conclusion.”

Hopefully Theresa May will also be bold enough to take the same line in the coming weeks and that, together, through their self-honesty, they can begin to nurture a badly needed healing process.


Categorised as General

First-hand Reflections on EHIC

There is a lot to be gained by staying in EU specialised agencies. Why squander the advantages?

Over the past 76 years I have been fortunate never to have seen the inside of an operating theatre. Yesterday, I was one of the first people to be treated in a brand-new theatre, opened just a week ago. The set-up was amazing – at least to a novice – with great shiny arrays of lights, screens, scanners and other instruments hanging from the ceiling, distracting me from the digging and sewing around my groin under a local anaesthetic. The sterile surroundings were brightened up by a colourful floor-to-ceiling picture of a field of maize on one wall.

I ended up as a patient here because, as a British citizen living in Italy, I have a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that entitles me to be cared for by the Italian health authorities. British citizens travelling in Europe enjoy the same entitlement as do Italian – and indeed all European – residents and visitors in Britain who can freely access the NHS. If there should be a no-deal Brexit, these reciprocal entitlements would vanish overnight.

I also reflected on the striking efficiency of the process through which I had arrived in the theatre. I visited my GP in our nearby village on a Monday morning. After examining me, he gave me a prescription for the operation and told me to take it to the chemist just up the road.  She called the main county hospital and fixed an appointment for me with a surgeon for the same afternoon. She, a young Albanian doctor trained in Rome, examined me and arranged a round of ‘pre-op’ tests for an entire morning the following week and told me that, all being well, the operation could be set for the next week: there was no waitlist. For personal reasons, I opted to delay it for a month till yesterday.

I am sharing my experience with you because it seems highly relevant to next week’s voting in the election to the European Parliament.  Much of the discourse surrounding Brexit has been about customs unions, backstops and the single market. Almost no attention has been given to the really important work of the EU’s specialised agencies and other bodies that have done so much to improve our welfare in various ways that we tend to take for granted. If Britain leaves the EU, our ease of access to the benefits that these programmes offer will be compromised.

By invoking Article 50 to signal Britain’s intention to leave the EU, the process of exclusion from European institutions has begun even before we have left. The European Medicine Agency (EMA) has already moved from Canary Wharf to Amsterdam and the European Banking Authority (EBA) is being transferred from London to Paris.  The European Youth Orchestra which has lived happily in London since 1976 has now packed up to settle in Ferrara and Rome, here in Italy. In all cases we are abdicating a say in management of these entities, depriving ourselves of valuable services, and causing hundreds of British employees to lose their jobs unless they change their nationalities.

Britain has played a leading role in the creation of many of the EU bodies that assure food safety, livestock health, sea and air safety, fair working standards, coordination between countries to address common environmental problems, student exchange (ERASMUS), shared research initiatives and so many more. The campaign for leaving the EU popularised the image of bureaucrats in Brussels churning out pointless regulations and imposing them on us, totally ignoring the huge benefits that countries, including the UK, can gain from taking democratically approved joint actions to address the common opportunities and problems that are bound to exist between neighbours.

My final reflection of the day was about the way in which Britain’s unilateral exit from these institutions increases the risk of conflict in the region. Much of the EU’s contribution to the peace that has reigned in Europe since I was a young child has been a by-product of the mutual trust and respect created between specialists who have dedicated themselves to working together to advance our way of life. Brexit erodes this mutual confidence and leaves us out in the cold.

If you are a one of Britain’s 45 million voters, there is a good chance that you own one of the 27 million EHIC cards issued in the country. Even if you have never used the card, it will have reassured you about easy access to health services when you travel abroad. But, if like me, you have used one, please give a bit of credit to the EU for inventing and running it with the full engagement of the NHS.

Categorised as General

Facing up to Reality

Time to Face up to Reality

A young cat has recently adopted me and follows me wherever I go. We have named her ‘Theresa’ because she never accepts “no” for an answer. But even she is now starting to see that this is self-defeating behaviour.

Surprisingly, May and Corbyn seem to have quite similar ideas about a soft Brexit that would respect the result of the 2016 referendum. But the chances that they could reach an agreement are low as each would lose the support of large chunks of their parties. Even if there might be a prospect for finding a ‘middle ground’ parliamentary majority in support of a soft Brexit, each knows how divisive this would be for both Conservatives and Labour. The talks seem bound to break down.

If Mrs May brings her plan back to parliament with few changes it seems that it is certain to be defeated yet again. If she fails to bring it back for fear of losing and respects parliament’s earlier decision to exclude a ‘no-deal’ situation, she is faced with just two options – either to lend her support for a people’s verdict on her plan versus staying in Europe (both of which, till now, she has stubbornly rejected) or to simply admit that, after exploring all options, she has concluded that the UK is unable to reach an understanding on how to leave Europe.

The best outcome that could come out of the current cross-party talks would be that both sides openly admit that there is no Brexit outcome that is good for Britain. We have learnt today that even remaining in a customs union, as advocated by Corbyn, without staying in the single market could lead to huge falls in fiscal income that would put a large part of his future spending plans beyond reach.

If both May and Corbyn at last abandon fudge and face up to stark reality, the best – and most honest – step that they can take is to jointly tell the British public that they are abandoning the cross-party talks, having both concluded that the failure of the talks is inevitable because the reality is that there is no Brexit deal that is good for Britain and neither wishes to pursue a self-harming outcome for the country.

This leaves them with two options, both of which almost certainly would lead to UK staying in Europe – to revoke Article 50 or to go for a People’s Vote.

May’s interpretation of the recent local elections is that voters simply want to bring the Brexit process to early closure. The best way of doing this is for her to seek parliamentary approval for the immediate revocation of Article 50. The chances that Labour would support her on this and that there would be a parliamentary majority in favour seem quite high,  following the admission by a Shadow Minister and member of the Labour negotiating team, Rebecca Long-Bailey, that, to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Labour would “consider very, very strongly voting to revoke Article 50.”

There would be howls of betrayal from hard-line leave voters, but these would be drowned out by the huge sigh of relief rising from across the country that Parliament had at last taken back control and faced up to reality.


Categorised as General

Carole Cadwalladr’s Enlightening TED Talk

Could Facebook Hijack a People’s Vote?

Watch what Carole Cadwalladr has to say and share it widely!

I and my  wife are British citizens who have lived in Italy for over 40 years. I found myself working for a United Nations organization in Rome in 1970 and we chose to continue to live in this country after retirement a dozen years ago. We had deliberately let our rights to vote in British parliamentary elections lapse, because we felt that it was wrong that we should try to retain a say in shaping governments that focussed essentially on British domestic matters.

The June 2016  EU referendum, however, was a different kettle of fish. It would have big implications for our own lives and also for the opportunities facing our children who were born and brought up in an international environment but who now live and work in England. Like the millions of other British citizens living in EU countries, we felt wronged by not being entitled to vote in the referendum.

Neither of us has ever engaged in political matters but we both felt that, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we should do our best to help to make the case for Britain to stay in Europe. With like-minded friends with whom we met shortly after the announcement of the referendum result, we decided that the best way through which to express our thoughts was to set up a “pro-stay” website. We have posted over 70 blogs on the site, and a number of these have been re-posted here by L4E.We hope that they have helped a few sceptics to gain a better understanding of the benefits that membership of the European Union, in spite of its blemishes, brings to our lives!

Having both been born during the war – and R lost her father in it – we remain hugely grateful to the EU for its influence in nurturing and cementing peace in Europe. We have spent our lifetimes in peace but are deeply concerned that any erosion of the EU’s collective authority, including through the abdication of Britain, could expose our successors to the same horrors of war that were experienced twice by our own parents and millions of their contemporaries. Let us not forget that though the wars that engulfed our parents, though both referred to as World Wars were essentially Europe Wars that erupted because of the absence of regional institutions for fostering trust between neighbouring nations.

In August last year L4E published my rather naïve thoughts on the apparently powerful role that Facebook played in influencing the referendum choices of older British voters, suggesting that it had undermined the natural instincts of grandparents to support their grandchildren’s aspirations.

Much more is now understood about the role of social media in influencing voter behaviour so much, in fact, that I have come to question the value of blogging without twittering and face-booking!

A couple of days ago, friends told me that I should watch a recent TED talk by the intrepid investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr on Facebook’s Role in Brexit and the Threat to Democracy. Rather than try to tell you what she said, I would simply invite you to spend just 15 minutes to listen to her extraordinary – and deeply disturbing – story. It is a story that has huge implications for the outcome of any Peoples’ Vote.  Various polls suggest that there is an ongoing shift in public opinion towards support for staying in Europe as more people learn about the negative effects on their lives of any Brexit.  Carol’s exposure, however, suggests that, if the ‘Leave’ camp resorts to its 2016 campaigning methods, this could well not be reflected in actual voting behaviour on the day of a referendum.

What can we do?

There are four directions to be taken simultaneously to reduce this risk.

The most obvious is to tighten up the rules governing the use of social media in democratic processes and to strengthen the enforcement powers of the responsible institutions, especially the Election Commission. The People’s Vote Campaign and its members should be lobbying MPs to move fast on this ahead of a second referendum, even if this is unlikely to succeed as technology developments and subterfuge seem bound to keep ahead of regulatory capacities.

The second is to induce the social media corporations to engage in self-regulation so as to strengthen their image as being “forces for good” in the world. It lies within their technical capacity to impose constraints on how their systems are used but, given the possible negative effects on revenue, they are unlikely to move in this direction unless demanded to do so by their members and by the big campaigning organizations such as Avaaz.

The third is to warn voters of the danger of being duped by social media campaigns. One of the best ways of doing this is for readers to share Carole’s revealing video as widely as possible.

Finally, those who are campaigning for Britain to stay in Europe should invest heavily in using the same social media systems as their opponents but carefully observing the prevailing laws. This is the goal of Project Hope and I believe that, if we endow them adequately, they will have the capacity to assure the outcome we want from a second vote.


Categorised as General