The Future Is Yours. Don’t Let Them Take It From You by Simon Stiel.
I am 36 years old and you may think I have not been around long enough to have a view about Britain and Europe. I will do what I can here.
As a child, I was privileged in that Europe seemed local to me. 80% of the world’s population has never been aboard a plane. With family members on the continent, flights during the summer or Christmas holidays were run of the mill. So were day trips going on either cross-channel ferries, hovercrafts, catamarans or later the Eurostar.
When the single currency was introduced, I was in Year 10 at school. I first heard the opinion that Britain should leave the European Union and I was sympathetic to that view. I held beliefs then that I now find ridiculous. One was the introduction of the Euro was a sign of the Third Reich being reborn. Europe being dominated by a malevolent power. Britain had things that were special like Parliament, the common law etc. The European Union threatened that or so I thought.
For my A Levels, I studied Government and Politics. I learned how the European Union worked and that Britain, far from being dominated by the European Union had been a key member and had secured opt-outs from moves promoting integration. We succeeded in getting opt-outs like keeping the British pound and the rebate during the Eighties.
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In June 2005 and on the then 30th anniversary of holding of the 1975 referendum and while sitting my exams, I watched the documentary How We Fell for Europe. Made by Michael Cockerell, I found it excellent and it challenged my views. It showed that contrary to the belief that Britain was deceived into joining the European Community, it showed that advocates for membership were open that sovereignty was being sacrificed. One poster from the Keep in Britain in Europe campaign had the slogan: “Forty million people died in two European wars this century. Better to lose a little national sovereignty than a son or daughter.”
It was also in 2005 that I went to Berlin and Krakow for a school history trip. It was sobering seeing where the Berlin Wall used to divide the city. It was a wonderful experience visiting Krakow too. and it was just a year after Poland became a member of the EU. A year later I found my late Polish grandfather Erwin’s family in the town of Radlin, Poland after writing a letter to an address. In 2008 for the European Universities Debating Championships, I travelled to Tallinn, Estonia as part of Queen Mary, University of London’s team.
If you are given a crummy product, you return it, get your money back and get compensation from those who mis-sold it to you.
Germany had been divided by over forty years. Poland and Estonia had been dominated by another power. They were EU member states. They valued their freedoms, parliaments, identities and languages intensely. So why did many see the EU as a threat to British identity and freedom?
Margaret Thatcher made that point herself in 1975 as Leader of the Opposition and as part of the Keep Britain in Europe campaign: “It is a myth that our membership of the Community will suffocate national tradition and culture. Are the Germans any less German for being in the Community, or the French any less French? Of course they are not!”
The Keep Britain in Europe campaign was well-run in 1975. They had the facts ready to show to voters how being in the European Community benefited local areas throughout Britain. They took their opponents seriously.
It would be a different matter in 2016. The Remain campaign was complacent and the Leave side won.
When the result was announced, I felt sick. I graduated from university in 2008 just as the recession hit and I had struggled to find paid work. The struggles led to a nervous breakdown in 2013. It took me a year to recover and in December 2014, I was confirmed autistic by the NHS. It did not come as a surprise to those who really knew me. It was a relief to me. After another year of trying to find paid work, I had got a job through a programme offered by Buckinghamshire Council at the time. As many others did, I had struggled. Why would we want to add to those difficulties by leaving the European Union and face great uncertainties?
I thought the referendum would be a close result and in favour of Remain. We are still living with the hurt and bitterness seven years later. I want to make clear I have no ill-will in any shape or form to anyone who voted Leave. I respect the secret ballot and I do not ask people how they voted on 23 June 2016.
Brexit is going to do nothing to help us address those problems. The Office of Budget Responsibility has pointed out that the Brexit has caused a 4% loss to the British economy. Many now face carnets, paperwork and regulations to play music and do business on the continent that took decades to remove. Many have been hurt in the process of Brexit and will continue to be under the present arrangements. What we have now is far worse than what we could have had and definitely worse than what we did have. Far from taking back control, we are not in control and we have to pay to access European Union bodies with no say now in how they are run.
I have thought about leaving Britain. I certainly see myself feeling at home in France, Germany or Poland. Perhaps even further afield like Canada, South Korea or Japan. However, there is much of Britain I have not visited. I love Britain while hating what is being done to it. Leaving it would be too painful as I would miss so much: family, friends and places.
The debate about Europe is not about young v old, rural v urban, regions/nations or about party allegiance. It is about how we can find solutions to address the problems facing British society today and properly reboot Britain: how to create wealth; provide educational opportunities; tackle structural inequalities; address health inequalities; promote and further arts and culture; safeguard the environment; recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and come up with solutions to have more sustainable transport and ways of living.
Repairing our relationships with our closest neighbours will be tough. I would like to make the following suggestion. I hope that alliances are formed between voters, incumbent MPs and parliamentary candidates cross-party on one policy: rejoin the EU. Editor’s note : Join GIna Miller’s True and Fair party.
That way, it could become possible we could start to heal ourselves by asking ourselves difficult questions and to dispel the misperceptions about the European Union that persisted for decades and that the Leave side could exploit in 2016. We could have a dialogue with the 27 member-states and gain the benefits of club membership once again.
Take on the Brexit machine with arguments and evidence. Do not give up. After all, if losing meant you give up your cause, the Leave side would have given up and shut up decades ago. They were beaten comprehensively in the 1975 referendum: they didn’t give up. The Labour manifesto in the 1983 General Election called for Britain to leave the European Community. Labour was beaten comprehensively in that election: leavers didn’t give up.
It would be a start and it would also offer hope to many voters; particularly those born in 2004-05 who will be voting for the first time in the next General Election. I implore people to use their vote in whatever way they see fit whether it’s queuing at a polling station, voting by post or by proxy. If a Conservative ultra-safe seat like Chesham and Amersham can change hands, so could anywhere else in Britain.
There is much to criticise about Edward Heath’s conduct as Prime Minister and after he left office. However, what he said during the 1975 European Community referendum has resonated with me.