Thursday, 9 June 2016

Brexit and me.

My position on ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ is pretty obvious. I voted with my feet nearly 8 years ago when I packed up my home and family and headed, with great enthusiasm, across the channel to ‘the mainland’. I love Europe. I love being a European. I feel so very much at home here and count my blessings on a daily basis at having been able to pack my life up in an instant and come here to experience everything continental Europe has to offer.

I find the prospect of the UK ‘leaving’ Europe (the geographer in me is pretty baffled by that idea anyway) utterly depressing. Like there has been a collective spell placed upon the folk across the channel that has somehow distorted reality. The rhetoric, column inches and impassioned (and embittered) pleading of many from the land of my birth sounds so utterly alien to me.

So I feel compelled to write. Because that’s what I do when I can’t get my head around things.

Many educated, informed, insightful opinions have been voiced in this debate, along with many which are blatantly racist, isolationist and archaic. I don’t suppose my thoughts will make an ounce of difference. And there’s plenty of empirical psychological evidence that producing facts in a debate like this makes no difference whatsoever! So instead I offer my opinion for consideration.

Firstly – my experience of moving to the Netherlands has been amazing. Challenging, baffling and downright bizarre at times, but an incredibly positive and exciting thing to do. I think everyone in the UK should have continued access to this kind of experience. To be able to decide one day you’re going to follow an opportunity in another country and to be able to simply go for it. No visas, no bureaucratic delays, just jump on a ferry and start a life in another country. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Secondly – who do you really think has the power here? The people in Westminster? The people in Brussels? I think most people realize that lobby groups and business interests drive a good portion of decision making no matter who we have (or haven’t) voted for. This is not to say democracy is dead – far from it. Everyone needs to engage in their democratic responsibilities to ensure ‘the ordinary people’ get a chance to be heard. British people have that chance in the UK and in Europe at the moment. If the UK leaves the EU then that opportunity is lost. Turnout in European elections may be woefully low but at least there is the opportunity.

Thirdly, and related to the point above – what difference will it make? No one knows. Short term there will be some economic impacts. Eventually the usual interests will ensure the status quo returns. Eight hundred years after the Magna Carta the majority of British wealth, assets and power remains with a closed minority. Will leaving the EU change this? Err no! What is driving immigration? Economics and business. If the UK economy is thriving people will want to come. Businesses will want labour – cheap unskilled as well as ‘high points scoring’ immigrants with expertise and higher qualifications. No matter who is setting immigration targets that won’t change and business interests will ensure the UK is never a ‘closed shop’.

My forth, and last, point is this. The EU may be a lumbering institution which is beholden to lobbyists, creates ‘jobs for the boys’ and cements power for the privileged few. But that isn’t any different to the situation in the UK anyway! Stepping back from the problems of reforming the EU is just stepping back from the problems of all our societies. There is so much we can learn from one another. One of the great things the EU brings is the cross-country perspectives. Working together, sharing good ideas, standing united against the ills of our world, be it extremism or climate change, is how we can actually make a difference for the next generation.

I realize I am privileged and that affords me a luxury perspective. Yet I am also an economic migrant. I escaped the south east of England to set up home somewhere you can live on one salary. (Definitely not possible in my previous location!) This enables us to support and raise our kids how we want to. That is true choice. That is what the EU offers to all its residents. If a German or Portuguese family wants a better life they can seek that out in the UK. Likewise if Brits like us want a better life for their kids the EU offers one of the best opportunities for them to access that. Across 28 countries. Sounds like something worth holding onto to me.

My kids will grow up as Europeans no matter what happens on 23 June. In fact they may benefit from a Brexit. In a Brexit future, by the time they are looking for jobs, big business, banks and agriculture may well have re-located from the UK to the Netherlands and my kids will reap the benefits. They are already benefitting from an amazing education system, fantastic public services and a wonderful, child-friendly culture which gives them so much more freedom to be kids than they would have experienced in the UK.

But the whole point for me is this should be a decision based on something greater than individual circumstances. Working together across Europe to challenge inequality, protect our fragile environment, raise standards for everyone and keep us all safe.

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