Saturday 23 July 2016

The EU Ideal

A month ago, Britain voted to leave the European Union and we have been arguing about what exactly this means ever since. No one seems to have a clue and the vast majority of those who were the face of the campaigns, both Leave and Remain, have disappeared leaving the rest of us to clear up the mess of their making. Which was nice of them. The aftermath has left us squabbling over the latest statistics and figures and therein lies the problem. The campaign to remain in the EU should never have been about the economy; it should never have been about the virtues of immigration or the lies about immigration Leave were telling; it should never have been about the undemocratic nature of the EU or where our Laws are made; it should never have been about EU regulations; and it should never, even, have been about what the EU has done for us such as, for example, flooding money (if you'll pardon the pun) into areas, especially in northern England, impacted by flooding.

No, as I sit here in a Parisian cafe, having popped over on the Eurostar, wandered around the Louvre and enjoyed the sunshine, I realise it should always have been about what Europe represents and means. The economy, believe it or not, is likely to be okay and, regardless, we simply could not have known what would happen. Yes, perhaps that is an argument for staying in and avoiding the unknown, but Remain should never have tried to win the argument on the economy, especially when there are enough people for whom the current situation, whoever is to blame, is not working. It was never going to work. The same goes for immigration and regulations and EU Laws and all the rest of it. The argument that immigration is a good thing was never going to trump the fear posited by Leave. The argument that if we want to trade with the EU our products will have to meet those dastardly EU regulations anyway was never going to trump, "BUT OUR TOASTERS ARE SHIT NOW BECAUSE OF THE EU. LEAVE TO TAKE CONTROL." The argument that only X% of our laws come from Brussels (where X is quite a small number) and our laws are already dictated to us by the City and large corporations anyway and we have the Queen and the House of Lords that are both massively undemocratic but no one seems to care was never going to trump the screaming about how all our laws come from unelected officials in some foreign country.

Those things are neither here nor there. They might be arguments and debates to be had but to place them at centre stage is to completely miss the point of what the EU is all about. The EU, for all its flaws, is, at its heart, about cooperation between countries. Yes that has extended into initiatives on the environment and is about free trade and free movement of people and all the other things that we can argue about all day long but the EU transcends that. The EU, and the argument for remaining, should always have been about being under 26 and wandering into the Louvre free of charge. It should always have been about cheaper flights and free data-roaming across the EU. It should have been about Erasmus and having the opportunity to go and study across Europe and the opportunity to meet all those Europeans who have that same opportunity to come to the UK to study. It is about moving forwards together because we've tried that thing where we colonise and/or invade the Other and we've tried that thing where we close ourselves off from the Other and we discovered neither of them work.

Maybe I am being idealistic and maybe I am being naive, but I genuinely believe it is a shame that an argument based on a fear and hatred of the Other, whether consciously or not, is what we allowed to win. The United Kingdom will be just fine from an economic perspective in or out of the EU. We will have trade deals and export and import products and all the rest of it. We will not be protected from the economic shocks on the continent any better or worse. We will figure out how to ensure all those complicated agreements we have with Europe that no one really fully understood nor, indeed, should have been expected to understand, somehow endure and Brexit will probably be a bit of a fudge. But that's all a bit irrelevant because of what this argument, what this result symbolises. Human history follows a familiar, if depressing, pattern. Throughout it we have been afraid of the Other, those that look different or sound different or simply are different from us. We have built great walls to keep the Other way. We have invaded their lands, killed their people and stolen their resources. We have exported them across the world and sold them for our own gain. Europe, on a smaller scale, has followed a similar pattern. We have been at war for centuries, one empire being replaced by another, one war ending and another beginning. The only thing Europeans could agree on for centuries was that the rest of the world was our oyster, its resources and its people ours to do with as we pleased. But that was changing. Slowly. But it was changing.

It's a crying shame that Leave won the argument, not by actually winning any arguments but by framing the discussion in terms that never truly mattered. That was Leave's big victory. And their legacy won't be an economy in ruins or borders that we can effectively control (currently non-EU immigration alone exceeds our overall target, so do not tell me we will suddenly become immigration control experts) or all these amazing trade deals that we can now apparently negotiate. It won't be a country that flourished nor will it be a country that was entirely left behind. Their legacy will be that generations of British youngsters may never experience what the EU was meant to represent. And that might just be the biggest travesty of them all.

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