This morning David Cammeron, the British Prime Minister announced that in a few years if his party is re-elected (let’s hope not!) his government will hold a referendum in which Britain may decide to leave the European Union. I have always said that if Britain left the EU, I would take up residence and apply for citizenship somewhere else in the EU; even if that would mean having to give up my British passport. I want and need to remain in the EU for the sake of my job and lifestyle. The freedom of movement and other advantages of membership are essential to me. But it is not however a decision I would take lightly or happily.
I am British. I have always had a British passport and have spent the majority of my life living in England. However, through my parental heritage I am part Irish and part Italian and travelling around Europe to visit various relatives has always been a part of my life. English is the only language I speak totally fluently, but I can get by quite well in German, Italian and Spanish. Thus I have always felt very European. I like the many manifestations of European culture. I am at home in a decadent, smoky Viennese cafe. I am comfortable sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome counting the number of local guys who try to chat me up. I like the way things run in an organised way in Germany. I can easily adapt to staying up all night and taking an afternoon siesta in Spain. I love the country air and the city pubs in Ireland. I feel at home in all parts of Europe. I have never understood why Britain wants to cut itself off, or why the British feel threatened by further European integration. Do they seriously think the French are any less French or the Germans are any less German as a result of being adamantly “European”?
And yet I am very British. I felt very patriotic during the Olympics which I think we did superbly and with charm. We have given the world Shakespeare, Dickens, Handle, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Holst, Lennon and McCartney, Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Turner, Constable and Damien Hirst. We had the first modern democracy. We are tough when our backs are against the wall and we helped liberate Europe from the Nazis. We introduced the first welfare state. And more recently we have become a very ecumenical multi ethnic society where people of many races, religions and types of sexuality can coexist quite well together. There is much in Britain to be proud of.
However, even without my own personal heritage, I have always believed that Britain IS geographically and culturally part of Europe and can no longer rely on it’s former status as a colonial empire. Britain’s voice and influence will be stronger as an active part of a thriving Europe, than as a self satisfied loner that thinks the world owes us something because of what we have done in the past.
We have to move with the times.
For me the decision will be a pragmatic one. I will have to do what my job and my lifestyle demand. (And I imagine many businesses will have to make similar decisions in the next few years).
I don’t have to decide now and I fervently hope that when the referendum comes Britain will remain in Europe. If not I will have to leave. If I have to give up my British passport I will consider it a very sad thing indeed.