Europe In The Rain

The fact most ‘older’ people voted to quit the European Union is no real surprise.

That’s not to say I agree. I erred on the side of caution, the ‘ better the devil you know’ scenario, but have been bombarded most of my life with anti-European sentiment. And it’s not just the Daily Mail.

I was born when Britain was supposedly still Great, when the Commonwealth’s heart was still beating, albeit barely, and the Common Market was something the politicians and money men wanted to be part of, but everyone else greeted with distrust.

This was an age where people who had fought in either world war against the Germans remembered the enmity. It coloured their lives, their future. In many ways, their futures had been robbed by war. There was a real suspicion of Europe. Casual racism? Yes. In much the same way that some people in other nations remember their history and conflict with England, it was hardly surprising that the British people distrusted Germany and France when I was growing up. The British were more nationalistic back then.

I remember my great grandfather, veteran of the first world conflict, telling me you could always trust the Germans more than the French and the Belgians. ‘The German would stand in front of you and stab you with his bayonet, the Frogs and Belgies would smile at you and stab you in the back,’ was his wisdom.

There were plenty like him.

The passage for this ‘little island’ to become part of Europe was a difficult one. We had to change our money system, and adopt and adapt to metric in weights and measures. As a child it was easy. For older people used to one system, it was a touch more difficult.

Then, when we finally joined the European Economic Community in 1973, there was controversy from the off. First of all, there was a referendum asking us if we wanted out. We hadn’t really been asked if we wanted in, except to vote for a political party’s wider policies.

Leading political heavyweights gave us all very good reasons to be out of the EEC. The counter argument seemed to be simply that we had to be part of it, for not very good reasons. I remember studying it in geography and economics.

We saw French farmers burn British lambs in the 1970s and even back in 1990. Not quite true to the principles of free trade.

We saw British firms decline as German imports dominated the stereo, television and car markets.

We saw the pound drop and balance of payments deficit soar.

There were the wine lakes, the butter mountains, the failures of the hated Common Agricultural Policy, which seemed to favour Belgian, French and German farmers at the expense of the British.

Then we saw the raft of legislation handed down from Brussels. Rarely has there been a week in the British press since we joined without criticism of the European gravy train, the strange and stupid rule-making and the fact that the power lay with the bureaucrats more than the elected Euro MPs.

Europe has always been onto a loser in the British media.

Even before the spectre of immigration could be blamed on Europe.

So I understand why older people voted overwhelmingly to quit the European bloc. I just don’t agree. People should have been voting for a future rather than a past.