If you follow this blog via Twitter or Facebook I should perhaps start with an apology that over recent weeks, the tweets and posts about cycling and travelling have been far outnumbered by those on the subject of the EU referendum next week. It’s a hollow apology however as I think the importance of the vote on June 23rd far outweighs most other things in 2016. It will come as no surprise that next week I will be voting for Britain to remain in the EU.
For much of my life I have had the opportunity to travel widely across the European continent, meet countless other Europeans and have even lived and worked in another EU country. That’s all very nice but it’s not the main reason why I am so supportive of the EU. Last year I had the opportunity to cycle from Tarifa in the Spain to Nordkapp in Norway and I’m now in the process of writing about my experiences for the book, The 35 Degrees. A couple of months ago I was drafting the chapter about cycling through western France. I had just visited the port of Royan. This is what I wrote:
“Britain will survive outside of the EU, of course it will. It will be “O.K.”. But I’d rather not live in a country that is “O.K.”. I want to live in a place that flourishes, that is at the heart of things, that influences others and yes, is influenced by others. Those that argue that “we don’t get out what we put in” seem to miss the point of a club. As one of the more affluent members of the community that is the EU, isn’t that a good thing? Surely there is value in contributing to promote economic development and stability elsewhere on the continent as, in the long-term, that benefits everyone.
The European Union is by no means perfect and few people have ever argued that it is. But whatever faults can be found in the European institutions of the 21st century, they are incomparable to the faults that fractured Europe in the first half of the 20th century. You have just been reading about the senseless killing of hundreds of civilians in Royan and its almost total destruction 70 years ago. That isn’t ancient history. What’s more, it isn’t something that has disappeared from our World as, alas, we continue to witness such destruction in the Middle East. In Africa there was genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s and hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. Even within the borders of the continent of Europe, with little to keep its constituent parts together, the former Yugoslavia descended into bloody war.
By chipping away at the political structure that has, since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1958, resulted in members of what we now call the EU discussing problems openly rather dropping bombs on or shooting each other, we are playing a dangerous game. As noted, Britain will be “O.K.”. But in 10, 20, 50 years time will Europe still be “O.K.” if, taking a lead from a possible British exit, the continent has once again become fragmented and factionalised? Is it worth the risk? I think not.”
It is rather depressing to hear people saying that they plan on voting to leave the EU but when pressed they can’t justify their decision. If you are one of those people then I would urge you to do a little digging over the course of the next week and question your decision to vote in the way you plan.
May I suggest that you start with the excellent Infacts website. In particular the article dismantling of The Sun’s decision to support the ‘out’ camp. John Prescott today tweeted the reaction of Rupert Murdoch when asked why he was so opposed to the European Union; “That’s easy,” he replied. “When I go to Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” He owns The Sun by the way.
If you are concerned about the perceived democratic deficit in the EU, here’s an article from The Guardian on that very subject.
This article by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian may make you think a little. It’s a depressing read for someone like me as many people appear to base their decision to vote ‘out’ on falsehoods. An interviewer last night on Radio 4 found many people who were planning to vote ‘out’ in Sunderland and when asked ‘why?’ they gave immigration as the reason. When asked a follow up question as to whether any of them had any personal experience of immigration problems, they all admitted they hadn’t.
You may have issues with The Guardian, so what about the FT? Here’s some research that was done on their behalf comparing perception with reality. Most people massively overestimate the number of immigrants from the EU, almost comically overestimate the proportion of child benefit that is sent to other EU countries but significantly underestimate the extent to which other EU countries invest in the UK. The figure dwarfs that of inward investment from China.
These are just a few examples of quality sources of information. Inform yourself. If, after doing so, you decide to vote ‘leave’ so be it. I think that if many people think about the consequences; short term and, as pointed out in the extract from the book, long term, they may just realise that the EU is no bad thing…