Brits in EU

A letter from an English European

You may not be too bothered about the EU vote. For me it's personal.

My dear country folk,

For the majority of you, the European Union seems like some other-worldly body that no-one's really sure of. It's because you're being asked to decide on something you don't really care about that Thursday's referendum on the country's continued membership hangs in the balance. Yet for me, my whole life is intertwined with Europe. For me this vote is personal.

For many of you reading this, your main experience of Europe might have been a week or two on the Costa del Sol, a stag party in Amsterdam or the odd business trip to Cologne. Yet for me, 'Europe' is my home.

In recent years, the largest group of Brits to have taken proper advantage of the Union have been the ex-pat retirees of southern Spain; they can draw their pensions overseas while moaning about the immigrants to Britain, a drain on Spanish healthcare but safe in their insular communities where there's no need to learn any more of the lingo than 'dos cervezas, por favor'.

In the 1980s, TV shows like Auf Wiedersehen, Pet starred some of Britain's top comedy actors playing migrant workers in Germany. These days the 'economic migrant' has become the propagandised devil of two worlds - the one who simultaneously steals your job while sitting around all day claiming the dole.

I am a migrant worker. That I am able to move between Spain and Holland without a visa, to work in Germany and Hungary without the need of any kind of permit, that is all down to the European Union. And after spending extended periods in all those countries, by integrating into societies, learning languages and moving beyond the staid ex-pats, I am at home wherever I roam.

Because roam I do. The continent on our doorstep is one of the richest and most diverse anywhere in the world. This was the home of Goethe and Mozart, Cervantes and Vermeer. Some of the most beautiful shorelines anywhere in the world can be found between the Atlantic and the Adriatic, while cities like Budapest or Lisbon are so distinct, the people are so diverse, yet absolutely European. I am proud to be able to consider myself one of their equals.

I am an English European.

While I may have spent my childhood in middle England, in one of the most conservative parts of the country, I have my eyes open to the part my country has played in the world. Britain may be an island, but we have long been a part of Europe. The identities of our enemies and alliances have shifted over the years like geo-political plates, but it was rare that we found ourselves alone. Where would Wellington have been at Waterloo if the Prussians hadn't turned up? And a hundred years later, three Frenchmen for every two British Empire soldiers died to keep out the now-federated Kingdoms of Germany.

Many people are harking back to the Second World War, trying to claim it for the Leave side. But that would be a gross misunderstanding of history. Britain and France declared war on behalf of Poland, and for no other reason. Many of those Poles later made it to Britain to help with the war effort; Churchill was slightly wrong about Britain standing alone in 1940, as without the Polish fighter squadrons the Battle of Britain may well have gone the other way.

Through my wanderings I have seen the scars of wars, have paid tribute to the fallen in cemeteries that dot the continent. Only last week I was in Holland, at the Market Garden (war operation, not a garden centre) museum in Oosterbeek, a couple of miles east of Arnhem. Against the wishes of commander Eisenhower in 1944, Field Marshall Montgomery's plan was to push the First Allied Airborne Army and the British XXX Corps over the three rivers of Holland, liberating towns and bridgeheads in preparation for a dart to Berlin. Yet the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem proved one too far, and around two thousand allied troops lie in the cemetery at Oosterbeek. They gave their lives to liberate a foreign, European country, and today the headstones of the 1690 Commonwealth Servicemen stand alongside 79 of their Polish comrades, amongst others.

A British and a Polish soldier lie side-by-side at the cemetery in Oosterbeek

Because despite which box you may tick on a piece of paper, regardless of arguments about economics, the future direction of our country or the opinions of Cameron and Farage, Britain is part of Europe and we are European. I just hope that you will have the courage to agree.

Adam Mathews, 22 June 2016

Further Reading

Who is the Unregulated Monster?
Britain is not a beacon of democracy, nor a rock of economic pragmatism, and a break from Europe will sure up neither

Why BREXIT would be madness
It's not scaremongering to say an Out vote on 23 June could have disastrous effects on Britain and the wider world

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