Posted by Geoff Bishop.
Written by Chris Wicks (April 2016)
I make no apology for posting this article from Chris because I thought it deserved a second airing.
An ordinary Englishman’s view of why Britain is in the EU…..
I am of the baby boomer generation, born in 1956 of parents who met in Palestine in 1947, a British army soldier and a British army nurse. They were doing what their generation did at that time, serving the nation trying to bring peace to a troubled place in a troubled time, grateful to have survived WW2 and anxious to get back home , get married, raise a family and live peacefully in a safer better world. I was brought up in Bromley, Kent, a comfortable outer London suburb, happy safe and free. The world had become a better place for those of us in Western Europe, for sure. The dark and mysterious world behind the iron curtain was a real and sinister threat, the possibility of nuclear war cast it’s dark shadow over us all.
The failings of the first half of the 20th century were in the minds of adults; on the other side of the channel our European neighbours were forming new partnerships and alliances for peace, prosperity and the protection of rights of citizens. Life seemed simpler then as I grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s safe and prosperous in Great Britain; a small but significant nation, strong, secure and influential at the centre of a commonwealth.
From school I joined the Met Police Cadets and from my protected and safe upbringing I found myself experiencing the real world and seeing life for real, the good, the bad and the ugly. I have never been political and around the centre ground I could see all sides of many arguments. My first vote as an 18 year old was the 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EEC. I voted to join. It seemed a tough decision listening to both sides of the debate, but ultimately the power of a community working together for a common aim in a dangerous world seemed the obvious and right thing to do, I was sure then that I had made the right choice. The EU’s motto ‘united in diversity’ recognises the different cultures, languages and characteristics of the member states, no one joined the EU to give up their identities.
Fast forward to 2005, I retired from the Met Police after 30 years service, I had served my time and could take a pension and perhaps a little adventure somewhere in the world. Police service had taught me a great deal; the overriding lesson I gained was the power of the community to do good. Apply that to community projects, the prevention of crime and terrorism in London; get people on side, work together and achieve so much more than any individual effort can.
That is how we came to live in Greece and the UK. We bought a few acres of olive grove and a tumbled down ruined stone cottage and got to work restoring the cottage, building a house, farming olives, learning Greek and engaging in a Greek community. We opened a holiday cottage rental business, (check out Olive Store Cottage, Platanias, Pelion on Trip Advisor or Booking.com) we jumped through hoops backwards to complete all the licences and permissions required and we became Greek tax payers. We keep a place in England and spend time there, so we are UK tax payers and residents too. We might not always like it but we need to pay our taxes to function as a society.
The world today is very business orientated and power is shifting from governments to big business it seems. But a world that does not focus on the power of the community to act together for the common good is in danger of becoming self obsessed, uncaring and mean.
The world is not perfect and never will be. We will never be crime free, and as generations change life changes. Secure jobs for life are disappearing power seems to be shifting worryingly from governments to big business. As citizens it is our duty to work together for our common good.
I have learned to see the British from the outside as well as the inside. Living in Greece has helped me do that. Our small business has brought us customers from all over the world but especially Europe. Perspectives change from nation to nation, we are all defined by our national characteristics, our cultures are different and a Europe that did not reflect the Balkan character, the Mediterranean, the Northern countries would be a dull place.
Great Britain during it’s evolving EU membership has negotiated a special position, no Euro currency, no Schengen open borders, we are tolerated, often respected, certainly valued we are EU members and in this modern world that seems exactly where we should be, united in diversity, learning and changing from our mistakes.
I do find it hard to understand the Brexit way of thinking, because it is simply ‘not cricket!’. The British character is to be involved, to show leadership, certainly not to run away when the going gets tough. Something as large and complex as the EU has to respond and evolve to new challenges and there is a process through which that can happen. Euro-scepticism is healthy when it questions policies and initiates evolution and change. The people, when called upon to make a big decision like remain or leave, need to think about the big picture and not get too drawn into the minutiae as presented by the politicians and campaigners of either camp.
Brexit worries me a great deal. The EU has gone through a succession of problems, the Greek debt crisis, the refugee crisis being at the forefront of our minds. Terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels are frightening. So where is the UK in all this?
We remain outside the Euro currency and will not bail out the European central bank in it’s efforts to stabilise the currency. The refugee crisis is one that will be solved by a united EU effort and progress is being made. The UK as an international player cannot bury it’s head to this subject.
Protecting London from terrorism is something I know a bit about. I do not see any significant threat to our security to the existence of Schengen, on the contrary the ability to travel freely in central mainland Europe but not to the UK without border controls actually makes the Schengen countries more vulnerable and us safer. In the last 4 weeks we have travelled by car in 12 European countries, all of them except Serbia are EU members. The main central block of countries all have the € and are members of Schengen. On the edges of the EU Great Britain, Romania and Bulgaria have their own currencies and are not members of the Schengen, they have secure borders controls and the whole system seems rather a good idea. Like all systems they need to be reviewed and reformed to meet new and challenging developments. Financial, social, security etc.
Romania is an eye opener of a place. Our Romanian friends lived through the Soviet years (they are now in their 40’s). Everywhere we travelled we saw investment of new roads, factories, airports . It was a cosmopolitan vibrant place. Wages are low and people work hard. In the countryside the agriculture and way of life remains set in the past and it works. Horses, carts and self sufficiency. Cast your mind back to the cold war. The threat of devastating war. The influence of the EU has been huge in the peace and security and prosperity that is enjoyed.
My generation living and working in the UK as EU members have benefitted from wealth gained through property price inflation, secure jobs and good pensions. We have been the fortunate generation and it is time for some open minded big picture thinking. Don’t listen to the politicians and expect clear answers, think about our history and why the EU was created, think about how if something is not working as well as it should you should fix it, not throw away and abandon it.
Politicians worry me too, because I am just an ordinary citizen not out to prove anything or make myself famous, I just want a good future for my family and future generations, in our modern disposable society it is too easy to throw something away that does not fit perfectly, to believe all that the advertising tells us. All around me in the media and social media I can see the negative Brexit campaigning with a big mixture of political motivation behind it (most significantly in my view Boris Johnson’s bid to become our next PM).
Great Britain outside the EU will not get an easy ride in any future trade agreements. There would be bitterness within the EU. Our actions would massively destabilize the whole EU block, it will encourage and strengthen the extreme right in France, Germany, Greece and other countries. It will lead to all the lessons learned in the first half of the 20th century being completely forgotten in the 21st. This referendum is not engaging with young people (as my working 30 year old children tell me), it is engaging the older generation and that worries me because our generation as a whole has prospered. The young need to be engaged in this debate and encouraged to vote to remain, because their future within a constantly evolving EU will be better, more secure than the alternative.
Perhaps there is a silent majority who will become more vocal and engaged, but unlike a UK election where a single vote in a strong constituency does not seem that important, here every vote is vital to the outcome of our future as a nation.
My account is deliberately about my thoughts and how I have arrived at my conclusion that it is vital to remain in the EU. Facts and figures to prove or disprove any argument are available online, but ultimately it is an individual gut feeling that decisions are based on as opposed to a clear cut set of figures on a spread sheet, life is about so much more than that.
Second post script….
However plausible the Brexit angle maybe the future would be such a gamble. There is a mood for change across the EU and that should be pursued. We are likely to do untold damage to the stability of the EU and euro currency when the opposite is needed. We are likely to see the breakup of the united kingdom, with Sinn Fein and Scot Nationalists having a very legitimate platform to push for independence and all for what??? Finally many people think we have a ‘Muppet’ as a PM now, but Boris Johnson and Farage in some kind of new independent UK leadership package would make us an international laughing stock… This is what would genuinely worry me as a realistic outcome of Brexit. For me to predict a future within the EU is much easier and more certain. We would continue as we are. An EU member and partner, continuing the road to reform within a dynamic EU that respects different nations and characteristics and can make a better world because of it. We will see.