I come from the post World War 2 generation, born in the 1950s to a true European peace that has endured for the first time in centuries. The previous generation and the one before that had all been involved, in one way or another, in the so-called “Great” war and/or the second war. That peace is in no small way thanks to European unity and the moves towards closer co-operation. It is seen today in its present form as the EU.
My own journey to EU support has been long and sometimes difficult. I worked on the UK borders which, as a consequence, I understand well and saw the benefits of free movement both to trade and people at first hand. As a trade union representative I helped negotiate changes in terms and conditions of Border workers locally consequent to the foundation of the single market when all barriers were removed. Not so many were employed on “controls” and those that were exercised them differently with a “light” touch BUT we were still there and are to this day. Whilst seeing the freedom of movement as a benefit I also saw the downside, organised crime and fraud that tried to abuse the relaxations, but we became alive to it and overall there was a positive benefit.
I then retired and at almost the same time became a grand-father, and that has affected me greatly as I started to wonder what kind of world we would be leaving to my grandson and others of his generation.
“Hard as it is to say now. I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible”.
Churchill wrote this, in a letter to Anthony Eden after the battle of El Alamein, during the darkest days of war.
Who am I to disagree with him? It was an inspired piece of forward thinking that recognized the need to free the continent from its old animosities and prejudices. All the more remarkable given the fact that at the time the European nations were being rent asunder by war. Britain stood alone but Churchill could see beyond to the greener and more pleasant place that we now inhabit.
The founding of the EEC, and then later the EU with a single marketplace and the right to travel and trade freely, changed the lives of my generation for good and for the better. So why is it that a new “Little Englander” attitude has grown? Mostly it is due to the deprivation that many have suffered economically in the worst depression since the war, and the need to find scapegoats. The “foreigner” become an easy target and immigration is seen as a threat. We need however to row back a little and look at that immigration. There are two strands, the first is emigration to the UK from outside the EU, often from countries that we had once colonized. I do not want to enter a debate on that immigration for good or bad, other than to say that it is always in the gift of the UK government to decide who can and cannot enter. It is nothing at all to do with the EU. The freedom to move within the EU is the second source of migration to the UK and cannot be stopped or restricted; neither should it be.
EU citizens in the UK are net contributors to our economy, putting in more than they take out, and they are roughly equal in number to those people from the UK who have also chosen to use these rights to live and work elsewhere in the EU. I have heard it said that EU migrants force down wages – that is rubbish, as unscrupulous UK based employers do that, not their employees. I have also heard it said that these “people” only come here for the benefits. That is also rubbish as the facts suggest otherwise; there will always be a few but they are far outweighed by the hard working people who contribute positively.
“That’s the duty of the old, to be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.” – Philip Pullman
Another reason people, particularly the young, migrate here from the EU is to study, which they do in increasing numbers. They enjoy the benefits of freedom to cross borders without let or hindrance and they bring money, culture and life experiences with them. Likewise our own young people travel to other member states to undertake studies or take part in exchange schemes such as the Erasmus one. All of this is at risk if we leave.
We owe it to the young to be mindful of what we leave them. Personally, I would like to leave an economically just, an environmentally friendly and a cultured world that values others as we would wish to be valued ourselves. I don’t want a world of economic uncertainty, which is what a Brexit would bring. There are those trying to sell our departure who would say that we could still be in the EEA and benefit from the single market. On behalf of my grandson I say to them that they currently have all the rights and freedoms economically and otherwise that they will need as they grow and flourish; anything else is uncertainty and worse than the status quo.
Please, on their behalf, campaign for a positive vote to stay in the EU, and also trust our younger members of society who will inherit what we sow, and give the vote on this matter to those over 16.
My duty is done here. We have to proceed now with caution. I conclude with the words of Robert Kennedy -:
“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity………”