Alphen, Netherlands. 15 May. The Brexit debate is now fully underway with lies and complete nonsense already being told on both sides of the argument about the ‘costs’ and ‘benefits’ of a British exit from the EU. For the record the political and economic costs to both Britain and the EU of a Brexit would be significant. However, with common political sense both Britain and the EU could emerge strengthened by a new relationship in which everybody felt more comfortable about the relationship and indeed the real issue at hand for most British people – the growing distance between power, principle and people the EU implies. Therefore, given the stakes it is also worth reminding ourselves where modern ‘Europe’ really began.
Speak to the Brussels elite and they have very clear views on where ‘Europe’ began. ‘Europe’ was the brainchild of an ‘enlightened’, mainly French elite. Given that French elites really do do elitism very well their Brussels descendants claim it was the likes of Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann who inspired ‘Europe’. They clearly established the ethos of the EU we know and not-so-love today; an enarquiste, top-down, elite-led, ‘we know better’ culture that has hung around Brussels ever since like a fart trapped in a duvet. Indeed, Brussels elitism and the Euro-federalism it underpins is the one thing that really worries me and which if not checked will in time destroy the EU, and possibly force me to vote for a Brexit.
However, ‘Europe’ was not born of or among elites. ‘Europe’ began on VE Day seventy years ago in Dulverton, small Somerset town in the lee of Exmoor, on the south-western peninsula of England. My father hails from Dulverton. On 8 May, 1945, then some twelve years old, he was attending Tiverton Grammar School. Just before midday the Headmaster ordered the entire school to gather in the school hall. A small table was then brought in draped in the Union flag and placed on the imposing stage and a radio placed upon it. At midday precisely the clipped, dulcet upper-class tones of BBC presenter John Snagg came on air to announce that the war in Europe was at an end.
The headmaster then announced that the school was closed and ordered all the pupils home. Now, you might think this all well and good. In fact this caused a problem for my father as his train to Dulverton, the wonderfully-named Exe Valley Rattler, which ran on a line long-since closed, was not due to depart until 5pm. Thankfully, a lorry from Dulverton saw mill happened to be driving along the road which linked Tiverton Grammar School to the station. The driver saw my father, picked him and some other Dulverton lads up, and drove them back home.
As the lorry crossed the River Barle into Dulverton my father heard the town band striking up on the steps of Dulverton Town Hall. My grandfather had already hung the flag of the Royal Navy outside their house (he had recently been invalided out of the Navy having been sunk twice during the war). A crowd was gathering on Dulverton High Street and people began to dance. However, and here is where ‘Europe’ was born, it was not just the English who were dancing. My father recalls how Italian and German prisoners-of-war, who had been working in the fields around Dulverton, were allowed to come into the town and join in the festivities. Soon people of many European nationalities were dancing together in a small English town; enemies one moment, friends the next. This is where ‘Europe’ began and it was a Europe of the people.
Pain was still everywhere and deeply felt. Indeed, my father also told me how in 1944 my great-uncle Walter left from Dulverton to rejoin his ship, the destroyer HMS Quail. Four weeks later the Quail struck a mine in the Mediterranean and my uncle went down with his ship. Tragically, my grandmother had seen Walter, her brother, on a train across the platform at Tiverton Station. However, it pulled out just before she could say hello. She never saw him again. She too danced on those steps with her fellow Europeans that fateful day.
It is not economics but governance that is the defining factor for me in the forthcoming Brexit vote. And, it is not 2017 but 2037 that really concerns me. My bottom-line is this; I am a European but I really do not want to live in some form of super-elitiste European super-state in which the European Commission claims (but is not) to be MY government, the European Parliament claims (but is not) to be MY parliament, and Britain is reduced to being little more than an aged member of a much-reduced European Council/Senate; a European version of the pointless and toothless House of Lords.
Therefore, end Euro-federalism and the threat to my freedom and representation it entails and I will vote for Britain to stay in the EU. ‘Europe’ really began on the steps of Dulverton Town Hall as an act of reconciliation between ordinary people from different European countries. It is precisely there ‘Europe’ should and must remain.