What if Britain did leave the European Union – what kind of country would it become? Would it really make any difference to what is, outside of its capital, an already inward-looking island nation? Would a European exit make any difference to those travelling between the EU and the UK? Especially when Britain, resolutely standing alone outside of the Schengen visa-free border agreement, is ever the exception to the European norm.
Be it which side of the road to drive on, the type of plug socket on the wall, the insistence on having separate hot and cold taps rather than the standard European mixer (a pet peeve of mine) or the illogical, costly and frankly impractical fondness that British homes have for carpets, the country always has to be different. When European standards and regulations are seen as unsolicited diktats from technocrats in Brussels, what difference will it make to the defiant Brits to not have to abide by them?
Once you start deconstructing the already fragile position of Britain within the EU a defeatist vision of inevitability quickly descends over the debate. The argument over leaving the EU is reaching a new fever pitch. However, it seems to be a one-way debate with the government making louder and more anti-EU comments by the day in what is seen by many as a transparent attempt to out-gun Nigel Farage’s Ukip party. The UK must be ready to “stand up and walk away” from the EU if migration policy is not reformed said foreign secretary Philip Hammond recently, a statement that would have been unthinkable a matter of weeks ago.
The anti-EU bleatings from London are only set to increase and those watching in Brussels and Berlin are certainly not impressed. But where is the pro-EU voice in all this? Rational, fact-based comments, whether from industry leaders or members of the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties, are being portrayed as over-moderate and not in touch with the national mood. Increasingly there is no space for wholesome praise for the EU, its value and enormous achievements.
As November was marked by commemorations of armistice day, 100 years since the start of the First World War and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, for me it was even more astonishing that anti-European rhetoric did not let up. The great tragedies that resulted from nationalist insularity and imposed frontiers in Europe’s recent history seem to have no resonance to this stubborn exit march. It’s time for all Britons who believe in the unparalleled force for good that is the European project to speak out and wave the star circle flag. Even if they are a minority, the voices of reason and economic and cultural truths need to be given the airtime they deserve.
Both politicians and the media should stop stoking the flames of a very messy and totally illogical British departure from Europe. Us Europhiles need to speak up or we risk waking up one day on very much the wrong side of the fence.
David Plaisant is an associate producer for Monocle 24.