Here you are, Eldest Boy. You’re 5, going on 6; and this is how you spend most of your time
– with books spread out before you. Books on the world, books on animals; maps, charts and facts to learn. The world is so much bigger than our little house – you know that, and I love that you know it.
And this is one of your books – it’s on the ‘European Community’. It’s an old one, obviously – I picked it up for you in a little second-hand book shop. It was 10p. I knew you’d love it, and you do.
After the book came the questions – ‘Are we still in the EC?’, ‘Well, what is a referendum?’; and then ‘But we will be staying, won’t we mummy? Because we really should stay.’ It seemed so straightforward to you. Because we are IN Europe, so why can’t we STAY in Europe?
But the only response I could give you was ‘I hope so, sweetheart’. Unfortunately though, you don’t get a vote. Which is a shame as you’ve done a fair amount of research.
I’ve always loved Europe, boys. If anything, I wish we weren’t separated by the Channel, which I think has always made us Brits feel a bit….well, set apart. I spent my teenage years writing letters to my Italian pen-pal, trying to tune into Italian radio, and recording any documentaries or news snippets about Italy that I could find. I spent 4 years at university studying everything French and Italian. Over the last 20 years, I have loved exploring Europe – northern, southern, eastern and western. I love the fact it’s all so close, and yet all so different. I love hearing the different languages. I love the squares, the cafes, the coffee, the food and the houses with shutters. I love the fact that it feels so very civilised. I love the pockets of Europe that we now have over in this country and the influences that Europeans (and non-Europeans) continue to bring to the UK, just as they have for hundreds of years.
But now, with the referendum only a week away, I’m feeling anxious. I really don’t know what the outcome of this thing will be and it is on my mind a lot. I have no idea how this country, or this continent, will look in 10 years’ time if we vote for Brexit. And I don’t know how I’d explain the outcome to you…..especially you, Eldest Boy, with your maps and your book on the EC. How can I explain that yes, these countries are our neighbours and their decisions still affect us; but no we don’t want to work alongside them, make decisions with them and be part of this big thing called Europe anymore because sometimes it’s a bit frustrating? How can I explain that yes, the world is becoming smaller and yes we advocate looking outward and working with others, but on this occasion we’ve decided that we are better off on our own? How can I explain that yes, there probably will be bad feeling with our neighbours, but apparently this will be worth it in the long term?
I don’t really know the answers, boys, I just know the arguments I keep hearing:
- That apparently we want to ‘take back control’ although I doubt that, in real terms, this will really mean anything to any of us normal people. Control will be with the government, not with all of us. And personally, boys, I think a wider sphere of influence is surely better – if our government is getting it very wrong, as members of the EU at least there are certain European laws which protect us all.
- That apparently we send too much money to the EU, even though we actually only send something like 0.5% of our GDP to the EU every year. Billions of pounds sounds like a lot to ordinary people you see, and people think that if it were their money, they’d like to spend all those billions on hospitals. But we will have no control over how that money is spent, and it is virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. I’m pretty sure, boys, that we won’t see huge investment into the NHS. In fact, I don’t think we’ll notice much of a difference at all.
- That we are being ‘over-run’ by EU immigrants. Yes, even though they make a net contribution to our economy, they are, apparently, draining our resources and we need to take back control of our borders. Even though this country has a long history of immigration and has well established Polish communities, Greek communities, Italian communities, Portuguese communities and countless more. But who wants to be outward looking when you can just be on your own little island instead? Apparently we have had enough of the Polish shops, the French delis and the Italian cafes, of hearing different languages and of being able to move freely between each others’ countries. Well, we’re not saying that nobody is welcome; but we’d like to implement a points system so that we can just welcome the people we ‘need’. Perhaps other EU countries will also decide to implement this and decide whether they really ‘need’ the huge communities of Brits living in Provence, Tuscany and Southern Spain, to name a few.
- That the EU is the cause of all our problems (not our own government, apparently) and that we’re about to be taken over by a German super-state.
- That Britain isn’t ‘Great’ any more. Basically, we want the Empire back because when we used to go and colonise countries apparently that was ok.
- That we are such a strong economy that negotiating new trade deals won’t be an issue – yes, jobs will be lost in the short term, but we’ll be bouncing back in no time. Apparently the EU is holding us back. Europe will be desperate to trade with us and other countries will be lining up too.
Apparently, it’s not that we don’t like Europe or Europeans – we can still be friendly neighbours. That’s what they say.
I’d like to be more than neighbours though, and I desperately don’t want this, boys. When I think about English football fans at the Euros in France this week (only a small number of them, but still) chanting about Brexit and taunting begging children in the street, I feel that actually, we’re pretty lucky that Europe still wants us. Our country has got an ugly side (which is nothing to do with the EU), and it feels like that side is particularly visible at the moment. You see, I like being a part of the EU – I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I strongly believe we should be playing a part in shaping its future.
I’m not sure what this ‘Greatness’ is that we’re harking back to, but I’d rather not go there. I don’t want the mess or the pain that a Leave vote is likely to cause. The likeliness of another Scottish referendum and complications in Ireland. The bad feeling it will create with our neighbours – because they are our neighbours, boys. And what sort of a welcome would we get if this ‘so long, suckers, we’re going to be great again‘ vote of ours wins? So I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry if this stirs up European troubles and discontent. If what has been a remarkably peaceful continent does not remain so. I’m sorry if jobs and opportunities are fewer. I’m sorry that our politicians and civil servants are going to be spending their time and resources re-negotiating thousands upon thousands of pages of laws and clauses when there are so many other things they could be spending their time on. I’m sorry that we’ll probably end up with a ridiculous compromise which pleases no-one, like being part of the EEA whilst still accepting free movement of people. I’m sorry if we lose some of the good things the EU achieved, just so that we could give sovereignty a try and realise that actually, having our own government go it alone with no back up is actually a bit rubbish.
It’s really not what I want, boys. I’m just hoping that enough people agree.
This is not intended to be a serious analysis of the pros and cons of the EU. These are very much just my feelings on the subject, as someone who loves Europe and as a mum. But if you would like to read what more knowledgeable people have to say on the matter, I’ve found the below useful reads: