I was born in 1947 and remember the aftermath of World War II, which lasted long into my childhood: the bomb sites, the rationing, the dreary austerity of the 1950s. I am in no doubt that the reason we in northern Europe have escaped further such conflict, all too depressingly frequent elsewhere, and enjoyed 70 years of peace and relative prosperity, is the unifying existence of the European Union.
On a clear day, we can see the coast of Europe. Until a few thousand years ago, we were actually attached to it by a land bridge, over which the first settlers of Britain came. Most of us are descended from European ‘migrants’: Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Vikings, Normans (we, of all people, in ‘1066 Country’ should know this) and later Huguenots and other refugees from religious or ethnic persecution.
Even that most loved of British institutions, the Royal Family, came to us from Germany. Whether we like it or not, our destiny always has been, and always will be, bound up with Europe.
The referendum campaign has been characterised by frankly dubious claims and counter-claims. Of course, the EU is not perfect. It is criticised for being wasteful and bureaucratic, for introducing petty regulations. But our own national government is capable of wasting billions and of being over-bureaucratic.
In recent years I have witnessed with dismay the increasingly rapid erosion of rights and safeguards, many only established within my lifetime: proper long-term contracts of employment; decent company pension schemes; free higher education; social housing; a safety net of benefits for the poorest or long-term sick; decent local services. This process can only accelerate if we leave the EU and are no longer subject to its regulatory framework.
We should not be seduced by romantic notions of ‘plucky little Britain’ demonstrating ‘the Dunkirk spirit’, going it alone and forging its own future. The world isn’t like that any more: we would be sidelined politically and targeted by globally operating ‘vampire capitalists’ who have no interest in our country or our people other than what they can make out of us.
However, perhaps my biggest concern is the legacy we will be bequeathing our children and grandchildren. The balance one way or another will probably be tipped by people of about my age, as we tend to turn out to vote, but we will not have to face the long-term consequences. The younger generations will bear the brunt of our decision. At the moment they can move and work freely within the EU and enjoy the reciprocal health care and benefits arrangements. What effect would Brexit have on them?
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