‘Tis the season for heated political debates in pubs and, after a couple of glasses of prosecco*, I got to chatting animatedly with a couple of my colleagues about the EU referendum. One, somewhat younger than me, complained about the lack of facts in the campaigner’s rhetoric, and that she felt she didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision.
Fair enough. Not everyone has made lifelong study of Britain’s historical in Europe, politically, culturally, and militarily. When I was at UCLA (which seems like an unbelievably long time ago) I wrote my undergrad thesis on Britain joining the EC, a painful process full of false starts. Recently, with EU referendum looming closer and larger on people’s minds (least of all my own), the optimism of those years and my own idealism seems like a joke.
In retrospect, 2004 was, perhaps, a mistake. But at the time, it seemed like the beginning of a wonderful future to me. Recently returned from a study abroad semester in London, I was frustrated with LA and disillusioned with American politics. My political coming-of-age could not have had worse timing (and is, incidentally the reason why I can’t rule out the possibility of a Trump presidency even though my European friends desperately want to hear it – my first taste of a presidential election left a bitter taste of crushing disappointment in my mouth. I know now that, in America, anything can happen).
But in Europe, things were going well, hatchets were buried, and the prosperous countries wanted to share their good fortune with their neighbours. “Stamping out the embers of the Cold War” is a more cynical phrase that was recently on my lips, but in 2004, my roommates and I had a party. We thought we were pretty classing, chugging ‘two buck chuck’ and eating cheese from the counter at Whole Foods. If only we’d known about Eurovision then. I memorised the names of the 10 joining countries and recited them to impress fellow area-studies students. At the time I didn’t think to question the wisdom of expanding EU membership so drastically and with such vastly different countries. Nothing seemed impossible. This was before the global recession, before Islamic extremism because such a threat, before a lot of things.
I spent my senior year reading about Britain declining to join the fledgling European Coal and Steel Community (in a nutshell, France, Germany, and a few others pooling their resources to make another European war impossible), only to change its mind in the 1960s, only then to be vetoed, twice, by Charles de Gaulle. Britain joining the EU was anything but easy, and I can’t comprehend why anyone would think leaving it is desirable. What happens if Brexits? No one knows for certain, but I’ll tell you this for free: it won’t be easy. Britain leaving the EU is bad for Britain, but it’s also bad for Europe, and is therefore doubly bad for Britain. Britain – and the world – needs a stable Europe.
And what about me? I need Britain in Europe. I make my living on British trade with Europe. I make my holidays in Europe. My backup plan is that, if London becomes too expensive, I can live in dreamy Amsterdam on my husband’s EU (British) passport. After graduation I abandoned studying political Europe in favour of the First World War, and I can’t forget that the EU was founded to stop exactly those horrors from happening again. I imagine that most people don’t even consider the possibility of another European war, but (just like a Trump presidency) one thing I’ve learned from history is that anything can happen.
I’m shocked and horrified by the news out of my home country on an increasingly frequent basis. But I also don’t want to raise my children in a xenophobic country that doesn’t know it’s own past. Optimism can only get us so far. But I’m just a (tax-paying, law-abiding, contributing) immigrant. And on 23 June, I can’t vote.
*OMG what will happen to Prosecco prices if Britain leaves the EU?