Bringing this up is a bit like talking about a bad smell. I don’t really want to … but I feel I must. Yes, it’s that whole Europe business.
We’ve now passed from the coma-inducing early stages of campaigning, when absolutely no one wanted to talk about the whole issue except the dullest politicians on the planet, to the current level of actual panic among my friends. It’s finally dawning on everybody that we could well find ourselves out of Europe next week.
When I lived in Brussels I got used to the huge dichotomy between what actually goes on in Europe and what the British think of it. I’d get a taxi to the Gare du Midi with a driver shaking his head sadly and asking why on earth the British hated Europe so. Then I’d get a taxi from St Pancras and get an earful of total nonsense from a black cabbie about bureaucrats wanting to ban sausages and stop bananas from bending. And that was before the immigrant crisis. I dread to think how racist and xenophobic those diatribes have become.
I listened to the Chancellor threatening everyone with higher taxes this morning. I’m sure it’s true that taxes would have to rise if we left the EU – but no one likes being brow-beaten. Same goes for well-meaning interventions from Barack Obama and the leaders of businesses from my beloved John Lewis downwards.
Perhaps if someone pointed out that all those holidays we love going on in Europe will all be more expensive? Flights won’t be controlled by EU regulations, so prices will soar. Exchange rates between the pound and Euro will mean UK tourists will be much worse off. Besides, our European friends won’t be that pleased to see us any more. To a large extent, allowances have been made about British tendencies to get wildly drunk on holiday and behave badly. We have been part of a club, and our foibles have been tolerated. Europeans don’t understand why we have to drink until we fall over (apart from the Scandinavians, of course) but they have accepted it. They probably won’t any more if we flounce out of the EU. And those trade deals that the Brexiteers think we can sign just like that? I don’t think the Germans or the French will have the least interest in helping us out of our hole if we bail on them. At the risk of being another browbeater, it will be another recession, and this time a self-inflicted one. All those British pensioners in Spain …. everyone with a second home in France ….. how’s all that going to work out?
Our children, many of whom currently enjoy working abroad or studying abroad (my own daughter is just about to get an Erasmus scholarship to study in France, and huge numbers of her friends will spend a year, or a term, studying elsewhere as a normal part of a uni course, it doesn’t even have to be a language degree either) will find all that comes to an end. The EU won’t splash money around to enrich our children’s cultural heritage – why should it? We will also need visas to work in Europe, and so will our kids. Want to have a season as a chalet girl? Feel like grape picking in France, Germany or Italy? Want to work as an au pair for a year? Er, good luck with all that. It’s not going to be easy. The Eastern Europeans, who have only just joined the EU club, know what not having the freedom to work and travel means. It’s a huge restriction on your horizons. Do we want to do that to our children?
I’ve heard some major rubbish in the past few days about the EU from educated sensible people that I’ve known for years. One said that EU laws are imposed on the UK and we don’t have a say. WE DO. We have the right to elect Members of the European Parliament, who then elect the President of the European Commission, who appoints 27 other commissioners on the basis of names put forward by the governments of each member state. All right, it’s not as simple as just electing an MP – but it’s a big organisation. If you don’t know who your MEP is, you can find out here. If you don’t like them or think they’re doing a good job, then don’t vote for them next time!
That’s assuming there’ll be a next time. Because this time next week, we could be out of the EU, and we may have left the institution – all right, monumental, and flawed – that has prevented war in Europe since 1945. And, if we have done something that stupid, there will be no going back. And good luck to us all. Because we’ll really need it.