There’s something going on in the UK at the moment. Perhaps you’ve heard about it. Something that’s exercising the newspapers and politicians no end. But to listen to the banalities spouted by both lots (with a few notable exceptions) you’d think it was some sort of playground spat or scuffle. But no – that’s just the level to which the debate (‘debate’?) has descended. What we’re actually engaged in is trying to decide if this country – i.e. the United Kingdom (bit of a misnomer these days) – should remain as part of the European Union; or if it should get out and – as those who want to leave so nostalgically refer to it – go it alone. You know, like we did during the Battle of Britain. When we stood alone against Nazi Germany – Great Britain’s finest hour. Well, partly Poland’s finest hour as well – many of the pilots in that battle were Poles. Indeed, as it’s reputed they were some of the most accomplished and daring, I suppose it’s possible that without the Poles we might have lost.
Anyway – UK in or UK out? Who knows? How’s the average Brit to know or form any sort of informed opinion? Half the government are on one side shouting “Yah-boo” to the other half of the same government who, in turn, shout, “Yah-boo” back. It’ll encourage immigration says one lot; it’ll have no effect on immigration says the other. It’ll mean Brits will lose jobs; it will make British jobs more secure. It will set the economy back; it will give a boost to the economy. It will mean – well, you can go and and on. And they do. It’s meaningless.
In the end, I think for most people, it’s going to be a gut reaction. The politicians’ blathering carries little weight. And in any case, who, these days, trusts politicians? So – with such a dearth of trustworthy opinion around, I suspect the average Brit will vote on a gut reaction, and that that won’t really slot into place until the day of the referendum itself. I’m not going to say which side I think will prevail. I’ve no idea. All I do feel, very strongly, is that if we come out, it will shoot the final hole in the hull of an already foundering ship – the S.S. Great Britain.
The original wellspring from which came the idea of a united Europe, was not an economic one. Its origins lie deeper than that. They lie in a movement that crosses centuries and has probably been going on since further back than history can see. Social groups have always been getting together – usually as a result of prolonged conflict – with others to form larger social groups. This very island, at present called the United Kingdom or Great Britain – whatever you prefer – was once, a mere two thousand years ago, home to umpteen separate tribes. They fought each other. They slaughtered each other. Until the Romans appeared. Then they fought the Romans but the Romans were better armed, better trained and altogether better at it – and won. They pulled all those disparate groups together – more or less. The island was set on a road to unification on which, despite the eventual demise of its Roman conquerors, and despite being shaken by almost endless conflicts since, it has never seriously turned its back. Would anyone want to return to a tribal Britain?
To my mind, the European Union is one of the most remarkable and positive institutions ever created. After the bloodiest war in the troubled history of this planet, a small group of nations said, “OK. That’s it. Enough.” The continent had torn itself and its inhabitants, physically and emotionally apart in an appalling, insane way for centuries. “Let’s call it a day,” they said. And for the first time in world history, a band of nations agreed to forget fighting each other and to try and find a way of living in peace together. That small number has grown and grown and now stands at twenty-eight.
In the debate in the UK about whether to stay or leave, many, many things are uncertain, even un-knowable. However, one thing – and perhaps it’s the only thing – is certain. It’s unthinkable that any country in the European Union would declare war, whatever the provocation, on another in the Union. If we in the UK remain where we are, we are part of that now huge – population over 500 million – territory of peace. It’s an example to the rest of the world. Remember the London blitz? Remember Dresden? If you’re too young, no problem – look at the TV news tonight or any night. It’s still going on – the killing, the pain, the destruction and despair. Is that what you want? Try reading ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’; watch the film ‘Stalingrad’, or ‘Oh, What a Lovely War’, or ‘Paths of Glory’.
If I have a choice of whether I want to be in that group of peace-seeking nations, or be on the outside, labouring under some nationalistic delusion about ‘going it alone’, having my country back and being able to secure our own borders, blah, blah,blah – well, I don’t have to choose. I want to live in peace; I want my children and their children to live in peace. And that I believe, is in any case, the direction in which the world is starting to turn. However much the opposite may appear to be the case, I believe our world, driven by an instinct far more profound and meaningful than anybody’s economy, is slowly, laboriously, painfully growing together. It’s the only way we’re going to survive. Without it, we’re a doomed species. I want to stay in Europe.