Whilst I know this blog is principally about my writing and writing in general, some things are just too important to ignore. I am in deep mourning. I don’t mean I am a little disappointed, I mean I have literally gone into a state of mourning. I think of the implications and find myself feeling devastated. I get angry, but have no one to beat my fists against. I try to look for the positives but all I end up doing is looking back over the last fifty years of my life and feeling sad.
Now I know it is only 42 years since we joined the European Union, but the European Dream pre-exists that date and what we have done is hammer the first nail in its coffin.
I grew up watching Jeux Sans Frontières – (that would be It’s a Knockout to those who don’t remember), where we settled our differences with inflatable mallets over pools of water. I’ve laughed at Eurovision and been amazed when we scored more than ‘nul points’ (for the record we may as well get used to nul points now!). I’ve criss-crossed Europe by train, in the days when the only journey long enough to get a night’s sleep was to go the length of Germany, because otherwise you were woken by border control.
I’ve been moved to tears when the Berlin Wall came down and at last a country could be reunited. I’ve celebrated when other Eastern European neighbours have finally achieved democracy after years of struggle.
I have had the privilege to own an apartment in France for seven years and to live in Belgium for two. I’ve run a car club for an Italian car and a dog breed club for a Swiss breed of dog. I have learnt to speak French, German and a little Flemish (all badly) and I can count amongst my friends people in just about every European country you can name.
Why am I telling you all this? Like all those in mourning talking about it is often the only way, but it’s more than that. I cannot sit back and watch this European Dream being stolen not just from me, but from millions of young people who will come after me and who will, if we do nothing, face a very different landscape.
You might try telling me I will still be able to do much of that. In reality a club you have never belonged to might tolerate your presence on the periphery, but a club you’ve stuck two-fingers up to and told you want nothing to do with, is not going to be as indulgent and tolerant in the future.
We have been being told that the UK pays £18bn a year to the EU – that’s £350million a week. However, we don’t pay £18bn we get an immediate £5bn discount on that figure that brings it down to £13bn or £250m a week. That is the most that any new arrangement would have to distribute. However, we get quite a lot of that back in money spent by the EU in the UK. For a start there is £4.5bn in Public Sector Receipts that goes to support areas such as farming and poorer areas of the country. Are those who are suggesting that it should all be spent on the NHS willing to take away that essential support? If they aren’t, then we’re already down to £163m a week available. But then there are research grants and other areas that come in as well, so it’s starting to look a little less enticing.
By the time you take into account the amount of business that economists on both sides of the debate have agreed is at risk, it’s all looking pretty sick and as lost business means lost tax revenue there is little likelihood of any public services in the UK actually benefitting.
Then if course there is the question of workers’ rights. Equal pay for work of equal value between men and women, the right to a written contract of terms and conditions, the working time directive covering the maximum number of hours you can work, maternity leave, parental leave and the equal treatment of part-time and agency staff are all things which have been introduced or improved by the EU – and some of them are not otherwise in UK law, so unless they are introduced as part of the two year leave process you will lost those rights.
And those are just the beginning… There isn’t time to go through all the benefits of co-operating and staying close to our neighbours, let alone all the other good aspects that no one has talked about, or been prepared to listen to when politicians tried.
Faced with that, how can I sit back and accept such a marginal vote which paid no heed to the voices of our young people whose future we’ve gambled away? Can anything be done? I don’t know, but our hope must really rest on a benign response from other European leaders helping us to find some sort of third way, before it’s too late.