It’s the referendum on the EU today in the UK. Like most people I didn’t give much thought to the EU until this whole circus began. Quite frankly, I took it for granted that I was a European and didn’t think a little stretch of water between Britain and the rest of Europe was so important. It turns out it is significant to the mindsets of many UK citizens – they see themselves as separate, a great nation that should stand on its own and have greater powers to govern itself. This is what my parents think.
I know I live in an online echo chamber of similarly left-wing friends, and perhaps this is why it’s so strange for me that my views are so different to my parents’. It’s not simply that they’re older and part of a different generation, which is what they claim. I know plenty of people their age that think differently to them. It shouldn’t bother me so much – they are entitled to their own views – but it does bother me.
Perhaps it’s because the whole campaign for leaving the EU has been so awful. The figureheads of the whole movement are idiots, racists and racist idiots. I am never ever going to agree with anything said by Nigel Farage – a small-minded, unintelligent self publicist who seems to delight in dancing on the edge of xenophobia, stirring up hatred amongst the masses. After Jo Cox was murdered he criticised the Remain campaign for aligning Vote Leave with hatred and extremism, but the link was there already. The link with extremism is underlying almost everything he says.
My Dad claims that the EU is undemocratic – that the leaders just get together and ‘talk about stuff’. Well, sorry Dad, but that’s what politics is. If they didn’t discuss and negotiate, the alternative – leaders that don’t talk to each other – would lead to suspicion and fear. And it’s not undemocratic. We vote for MEPs. It’s our fault if we don’t pay attention to who they are and what they’re doing. Yes, I agree the EU doesn’t work as well as it needs to at the moment – it needs to be more transparent. But it’s done so much good – perhaps most importantly in securing workers’ rights such as equal pay and paid leave. It’s made crucial moves to regulate pollution and surely it’s obvious that environmental issues are so big that they require the cooperation of nations.
I studied a lot of European history at school, and I’m reminded of the ideas of ‘Little Englanders’ and ‘Splendid Isolation’ that existed prior to the world wars. It’s all very well to desire greater sovereignty but no nation exists in a vacuum and as soon as there is any sort of crisis, it is essential for countries to work together. We cannot solve the immigration crisis by isolating ourselves and putting up a brick wall. Displaced peoples from places ravaged by war or completely unsafe due to savage dictatorships should be the responsibility of everyone. It requires cooperation. It doesn’t make any sense to make this a reason to leave the EU, either, because the surge in immigration numbers are not coming from the EU, but from all over the world.
It’s the issue of immigration that’s caused the most vitriol in this torrid campaign. I work with 16-19 year olds at a city college, and I’ve heard some terribly racist comments coming from their mouths; I can only assume these are words passed down from the right-wing press, or parents who should know better, but are equally challenged by a competitive job market, and perhaps a lack of education themselves. Racism and xenophobia come from lack of education, lack of economic power. There’s no excuse for these vile views, but they exist, and I’ve heard them first hand from working class kids who don’t know any better yet. They do not need validation from the likes of Nigel Farage and other well-off ignorant white people.
I do not see myself as different from any other EU citizen. I honestly don’t see the distinction that others must see if they think we should separate ourselves from them. In my job as a teacher, I’ve taught children from around the world whose families have chosen to settle here, and my classroom has been richer for it. I taught in a Catholic school where there was a fairly large Polish community and the thought of them feeling unwelcome because of the Vote Leave campaign is deeply upsetting. These are not numbers in a piece of data on immigration – they are the boys and girls I’ve got to know over the years I’ve taught them English. The fourteen year old girl who told me about Poland’s crisis in 1983. The Polish twin boys who got their ‘C’ grades in English, despite being second language learners and dyslexic – they did it through pure hard work and grit. I’ve also worked with teachers from Spain, France, Poland, Portugal… the thought of them feeling unwanted and not valued because of the Vote Leave campaign is terrible. These are my colleagues. My friends. I’m 30, so I don’t remember ever not being part of the EU, and part of a multicultural society, and to desire it to be different makes no sense to me. We’re lucky to live in a largely tolerant country, one that is economically and politically stable, and of course people from elsewhere will want to come – whether it’s to simply feel safe, to make a better life for their family, to earn more money.
The idea that the EU is undemocratic does not hold weight with me. It’s only undemocratic if we take no notice, don’t vote for MEPs, and allow our media to not report on EU matters. The best referendum result would to a vote to remain, with a greater public interest in our nation as a member of this organisation that has brought stability and peace. Europe was at war just seventy years ago, within living memory. The world wars were caused by nationalism in a fractured Europe, and we can’t afford to make that mistake again.