At the edge of history
On Saturday, I attended the Unite for Europe March in London.
It was the first time I’ve ever taken part in an organised protest or march, and it was probably also the first time I’ve ever felt strongly enough about an issue to feel motivated to do so.
As I walked from the Tube to the meeting point at the start of the route, I was thinking about all we’ll lose as we head into this coming week, towards Mrs May’s intended date for triggering Article 50 and starting the two years of exit negotiations.
My father was born into a world that within weeks, was plunged into the Second World War. My grandparents must have spent some time hiding in shelters with their children, my father and uncle, the fear and uncertainty something I cannot imagine. My mother was born into the hesitant peace that came immediately after that conflict, and the years of austerity, rationing and rebuilding that followed, as borders closed and dangers loomed in the east.
And then came the Treaty of Rome, and the start of 60 years of peace, cooperation and (relative) economic stability, in a continent previously torn by wars and economic rivalries.
By contrast to my parents, I was born into a nation that was by then already a member of the EU. I’ve held the rights of an EU citizen since 1993 when those rights were established by treaty. So, for my entire working life I’ve enjoyed the benefits of freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination based on my nationality within the EU, and rights to consular protection abroad (among others). It makes me incredibly sad that the rising tides of nationalism in individual member states are starting to dilute these feelings of freedom and partnership that have been hard-won through (initially) post-war negotiation, and then expanded through the end of the Cold War to our neighbours further across the continent.
It’s fairly clear that in the nine months since the referendum took place, every one of the main planks of the groups advocating that Britain should leave the EU have been thoroughly dismantled or proven as falsehoods — most famously the £350 million per week we’d get back to put into the NHS, which was a claim withdrawn on day 1 after the result. Given that many of the staff of the NHS choose to live and work in the UK but come from outside, we can also guess that things will become even further strained as the Government refuses to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens. There may be a large fee of billions to pay to get out, but we just don’t know yet, and probably will not through the coming (doubtless even more uncertain) two years ahead. Some of the UK regions and industries significantly dependent on EU grants and funding have started to realise the austerity they face in the future. Immigration has yet to be proven a failed policy, and our terrorists have consistently been home-grown.
Not only that, but those in favour of the exit appear intent on trampling on genuinely useful rules agreed across the EU, such as protecting wildlife habitats and regulating drug trials. My mind boggles as to what comes after our EU rights are stripped and businesses are given free reign to profit in any ways they choose… there’s nothing to fear in the past, but a leap into the dark unknown ahead.
I’m appalled that a minority voting outcome for an advisory process to Parliament has led us down this sad path, and it is largely those under 40 who will pay the price for this in the coming decades.
The march on Saturday was glorious, with a far larger turnout than the organisers expected, and with people coming to London from across the country to join together to speak for Europe. A source of joy and love.
For the moment, I’m proud to be a European citizen. I celebrate all of my friends and colleagues who decided to come to the UK to work and live here, and long (I hope) may they do so. The EU is far from perfect, and could do with many structural reforms and revisions, but I applaud what it has brought to this continent of ours for the past 60 years — peace, freedom, friendship, greater understanding, opportunity, and prosperity.
Happy birthday, EU!