Let’s not forget what Europe was like within living memory, full of bloody conflict, as it had been for hundreds of years. Brexiteers wanting to pull the UK out of the EU do so in the face of a very troubled history which has involved the UK more often than many realise, whereas under european unity we have had 71 years of peace.
This photo shows the place where six resistance members in our village in France were shot by the Nazis after the Allied landings in 1944, in retaliation for the Resistance’s uprising. This was the Europe that those founding the EU wanted to prevent ever happening again. We in the UK were part of the immense and very costly effort to bring peace to a bitterly divided Europe. This continent was riven by nationalism and racism, where 6 million innocents were murdered and countless others driven from their homes, massacred by the SS in ethnic cleasing or forced to move away from their traditional homelands.
When I watch the Brexit campaign I can’t help feeling, “how selfish”! These people gave their lives for a free Europe. Our troops and civilians did too. Yet now we, many of us, want to pull up the drawbridge, “keep out the foreigners”, and think we can somehow “take back control”. We can’t. It’s an illusion where we are living in the past. The UK wasn’t invaded, luckily, in the Second World War. Hitler gave up on crossing the Channel and instead attacked Russia and thus brought about his defeat. He had already attacked Poland, whose children we now want to keep out and whose grandparents foughts with us in the Battle of Britain and then suffered more than 40 years of Communist oppression. So we have never experienced what continental Europe suffered. Britain thus continues living out of past glories that have long passed. There is no empire and we no longer “rule the waves” with our massive navy. Instead we are a medium-sized power dependent on our alliances with others.
The world is now dominated by big power blocks and they control trade and trade agreements. As Obama reminded us earlier this year, if we leave the EU and its single market we will be “at the back of the queue” for trade negotiations, which can take 7 or 8 years to agree. Little England, for it is the English driving the Brexit movement in the main, cannot be an island unto itself any more.To somehow imagine we can carve our own economic might without the EU is flying in the face of how the world has moved on since before we joined the EU in 1973.
We are part of something much bigger and we are deluding ourselves if we think we aren’t. To make collaboration between states work we each give something and we all gain something. We are the bigger for it. The fear-based politics of xenophobia divides us and we are the poorer for it. There are plenty waiting to profit from a Brexit, chief amongst them Putin’s Russia who want to pull apart the EU and rebuild the Soviet empire very much as Hitler wanted to build a German one. Let’s be so much greater than this small-minded nationalism. Stay with our continental brethren. After all, in the greater scheme of things, we’re one anyway.