Written by Paula Kirby, a member of one of the SY2E – Remain in the EU groups and originally published on Jon Danzig’s Reason2Remain.
The referendum is all about the kind of nation we want to be, writes Paula Kirby.
Do we want to be a nation that is willing to build on the values we share with our European allies; that is open to partnership, and that has a contribution to make that is both British and European?
Or do we want to be insular, a country going it alone, aloof and self-serving?
This is the choice that faces us on 23 June. The referendum isn’t just a decision about whether or not we remain part of the European Union. It is a collective vote on how we see ourselves as a nation.
British values are at home in Europe, and no wonder, for we have been helping to shape EU values and policies throughout the 43 years of our membership.
But our relationship goes back much further than that. We are intertwined with Europe; we are British and European; we share so much of our history, achievements, ideas and values. Our bond with our European partners is based on so much more than an accident of geography.
Brexiters often talk as though we were a breed apart, with nothing in common with our European neighbours. They could not be more wrong.
‘Our way of life is founded on liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.’
It sounds very British, doesn’t it? But it’s also very European. In fact, it’s from Article 6 of the EU Treaty – which our Parliament in Westminster democratically agreed – and it encapsulates the values at the heart of the European Union.
But those who want us to leave the EU try to convince us that we are mutually incompatible. They would prefer to see Britain going it alone, separate and disassociated, regardless of the estrangement this would cause between us and our current friends and allies across Europe.
For those who promote Brexit, everything seems to be a zero-sum game. The EU’s gain must always be the UK’s loss. To the Leavers, negotiation, compromise and collaboration with our EU neighbours are just for wimps.
One problem with this approach is that it promotes a Britain that is self-serving and mean: nationalistic in the worst sense. It begrudges other EU members the benefits that Brexiters want us to keep for ourselves.
Take freedom of movement, for example.
Brexiters have no problem with Britons having the right to live and work elsewhere in the EU; but the idea of citizens from other EU countries having the right to live and work here prompts howls of outrage.
This is both unjust and foolish. For all the data shows that EU migrants in Britain are a boon to our public services and economy, contributing far more than they take. We should be welcoming them. Instead, Brexiters and the Eurosceptic press demonise them.
Is this really the country we want to be? Mean, xenophobic and narrow-minded?
The European Union is respected around the world as a force for good, a beacon of decency, humanity and democracy, and that is how the UK has historically been seen too.
Do we really want to damage that reputation by being the only member ever to leave, snubbing our allies, and potentially damaging and destabilising the EU that took so many decades to build?
These are the fundamental questions in this referendum: what sort of country do we want Britain to be, what place do we want for our country in the world, and at this critical time in world affairs, do we want to help or hinder the European Union that has proven such a force for good?
For the sake of Britain, British values, and our place in Europe and the world, I shall be voting Remain on 23 June.
• Paula Kirby is a writer and translator. She lives in the Scottish Highlands, but has spent significant chunks of her life living and working in mainland Europe, including two years teaching English in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
• See the illustrated portfolio of Reasons2Remain articles and graphics so far at: www.articles.reasons2remain.eu
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