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I Don’t Want To Take My Country Back, I Want To Take It Forward!

Today’s headlines in The Sun and the Daily Mail have once again blown the anti-immigration dog whistle for the vote on Thursday.

The fact that virtually every UK and international economic analyst and academic has predicted huge damage to the country if we leave the EU is of no apparent consequence to them.

As Michael Gove himself has proclaimed: We don’t need these pesky experts with their years of experience, their degrees and doctorates and the like.  We just need to listen to the multi-millionaire politicians like him who have nothing to lose either way, and in the case of Boris Johnson, everything to gain from a Brexit vote.

Because even though they’re privately educated and used to dining in the finest restaurants, quaffing magnums of expensive fizz, they can still make time for a photo opportunity in a carefully organised visit to your local pub to sip on a pint of wallop just like us normal folk.

We’ve all seen the pictures of them holding aloft a foaming pint of commoner’s ale, looking about as comfortable in their surroundings as a Britain First member at an inter-faith seminar in a yurt.  Some cynical souls might think that’s a patronising bit of opportunistic electioneering, but it simply shows just how connected these members of a rich, privileged elite are with all us simple earth dwellers, and how much of a shared experience we have.  Of course we can trust them with our best interests! Just like you could trust Bernard Madoff with your PIN number.

Let’s skip past the detail that election-style campaigning should have no place in a one way-ticket-vote.  Let’s treat the whole thing like a local election where you’ll be able to change your mind in 5 years if you make a mistake now.  After all, this is only the most important decision for our country since The Reformation. Let’s just have another pint and hope no one notices any of that.

Let’s also ignore the fact that most of the stuff coming out of the Leave campaign headquarters is discredited before the ink is even dry on the glossy leaflets they push through our letterboxes.  The £350m a week that’s actually £154m.  The 70% of our laws that are made in Brussels that is actually more like 13%.  Wild claims that grow ever more outlandish the closer we get to polling day.

Let’s not look at the benefits we get from being a member of one of the largest free trade clubs on the planet – a club that other countries would gladly sell their collective grandmothers to be in.  Let’s instead throw ourselves into a wilderness that no one on the Leave side has a map for.

Let’s not look past the propaganda to see that we do pretty well out of the EU for what we pay in. Let’s not focus on the things we’ll miss when the Brexiteer’s claims to be able to divide, in a thousand different ways, the loaves and fishes of the paltry 0.37% of GDP that we spend on our EU membership turn out to be more mess than messianic. Especially amidst a political climate that is all about cutting spending rather than increasing it.

Let’s focus on all these disputed statistics that most of us don’t really understand and didn’t give a hoot about a couple of years ago.  Just like we didn’t realise just how much we gained from the EU, from local sports facilities, to major reconstruction and renewals projects to money for research, science, the arts and education.

Let’s risk everything for the sake of a few recent blips in immigration numbers.  Moreover, let’s ignore the fact that being driven to such extreme measures as leaving the EU for the sake of those statistics could actually do more long term damage to our economy than any number of migrants or refugees simply coming here to make a life in the 5th richest country in the world.

Come on everybody!  Let’s jump out of the plane without a parachute.  After all, parachutes are for fear-mongers and scaredy cats.  We’re British!  What do we care for the laws of gravity and the sight of the earth rushing up to meet us?  We might be about to splatter ourselves all over a car park in Sudbury.  But it’ll be a stain on a corner of some forgotten tarmac that will be forever England!

Or we can really consider our place in the world.  Remain a country that looks outward instead of inward. A nation that uses that Blighty spirit that the Leave campaign has wrapped itself in to fight for a better Europe.  And for a better Britain.

It’s a truism that the world is getting smaller.  We’re all now so interconnected on a second by second basis that location often plays no part in our interactions.  Instant communication and instant discourse is something we now all take for granted.

That’s part of the future of our culture, all cultures.  More connectivity, more debate, more shared experience and more cooperation.  If the human race has any sort of hope of survival, those are the values that will help save us.

Because wars, hatred, distrust and the destruction that comes with all those elements are first kindled by fear.  Fear of strangers and fear of the different.  A corrosive fear that finds fertile breeding ground in separatism and division.  A fear that ferments the kind of mindset that leads to the savage murder of a defenceless woman in broad daylight.

Institutions like the EU are far from perfect, but one of the things it has done for 70 years is keep the peace and keep us talking.  Winston Churchill was one of the greatest advocates of a United States of Europe as a place where ‘jaw jaw’ would help prevent future ‘war war’.

Cries of “let’s take our country back” ignore the lessons of history.  The most important of those being that we very nearly lost our country 75 years ago due to a disconnected European continent driven to the brink of self destruction by the separatist rhetoric of an inward looking state.

My father fought in WW2 and my grandfather in WW1.  I remember the gas scars on my grandfather’s face and my father’s spare artificial leg in the airing cupboard.  I’m the first male in my family for three generations who hasn’t had to put on a uniform and shoot someone as part of a global conflict.

The relish which Brexiteers have displayed at the idea of a destabilised Europe following a UK departure show just how little genuine respect these people have for history or for the sacrifices made by all nations to achieve the peaceful unity we have now.

We seem to very easily forget our freedoms and our relatively safe and comfortable lives came at great expense.  To me that makes arguments about a few million pounds a week and a few thousand desperate people seeking out those same values in our country seem petty and churlish.

We should never forget our part in building a new Europe, or ignore the part we should be playing now helping to guide it to a new future. Yes it’s in desperate need of reform, and we should be in there fighting for that just as much as we’ve fought other battles down the generations.   Because, as we’ve already seen, what happens over there will still have an impact on us whether we’re in the EU or not.

We’ve never really committed to the EU. We’ve always had one foot on the floor, arguing about bent bananas and sending MEPs to openly thumb their noses at the principles of the European Parliament.  It’s time we grew up and faced our responsibilities as a leading nation in what could become a new Europe.

Instead of using our famous British contrarianism to thwart Brussels, we should be pressing for a better EU, one that reflects our aspirations as well as those of other nations.  As with any battle you have to be in the thick of it to have any chance of winning.  The idea that we should be running away from this fight seems totally at odds with our heritage.

The belief that we can simply withdraw from Europe and erect a barbed wire fence around our island is misguided. The days of fortress nations are gone.  We can’t turn back the clock to a time when we wielded total control over what comes in and out of the country both in terms of people and ideas, and I wouldn’t want to if we could.

The future is about closer co-operation and a realisation that we’re all inhabitants of one small spinning rock in the middle of space.  As we’ve seen, natural disasters, climate change and terrorists pay little heed to borders and lines on maps.

The EU is part of a process that must inevitably bring the whole world together in generations to come. It’s an imperfect institution now but it’s a work in progress.  A work we need to be a part of.

The era of closed borders and closed minds should be behind us now, and those trying to drag us back to those dark ages of fear and insularity are robbing us of our part in shaping a future world that will happen with or without us.

So let’s not vote on Thursday to take our country back.  Let’s vote to take it forward.  Vote to remain in the fight for a better world.

Originally posted on Huffington Post and republished with permission from the author.

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