It is the afternoon of Thursday 23 June 2016 and today feels like a moment of real significance – a day that will determine the course of our country’s (and perhaps our continent’s) future. Dr Who would call this a “fixed point in time”, a moment with such far reaching consequences it can never be changed, no matter how many time travellers race around the universe righting wrongs or changing outcomes. It reminds me of the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors”, when the course of the main character’s life was determined by whether or not she managed to jump between the closing doors of a tube train before it pulled away from the platform. Such is the way I feel about the EU Referendum, underway in the polling stations of the UK as I write.
Because it IS a defining moment. We stand at a point where two alternate streams of history unfold before us. Vote Remain and we maintain a significant role in one of the world’s most important organisations, vote Leave and we head off on an uncertain journey on our own.
I went out for a couple of hours to hand out leaflets promoting the Remain campaign. I don’t know how effective that was in Brighton, but I felt like I had to do something to influence an outcome I feel passionately about. This is a largely Europhile community and most people I spoke to had already voted to stay in the EU. The conversations I did have with people who were voting Leave were baffling to me. We seem to want the same things but we have completely different beliefs about how to achieve them. We want increased funding for the NHS, more affordable homes, security from hostile forces, a bigger stake in our democracy. Those who vote Leave are convinced we will achieve those things if we leave the EU. What they can’t tell me is how. I hear a lot of talk about redirecting money to the NHS, about securing our borders and about negotiating trade deals with other countries, but no one from the Leave campaign can tell me how they will do these things. There is a conviction that somehow it will just happen simply because we are Great Britain, without any policy, plan or explanation about the mechanism that is going to secure these deals for us. As if somehow Britain will go back to being a “great power” as it was in the days before the Second World War and other countries will fall at our feet desperate to do business with us. I don’t see how that can happen. The world is a very different place. The very idea that any country can go it alone is absurd. We are members of many different global clubs – the UN, the G8, the G12, NATO – and each one requires contributions from us of money, personnel, services, and imposes rules and regulations for membership. Should we untether ourselves from these clubs too?
The reality is we are part of an increasingly interconnected world. Trade is carried out in large cooperating blocks of countries, tied together by regional and economic interests and people travel around the world for work and opportunities. Why would we leave a community that allows us to trade with 500 million people, travel visa free across a continent and live and work in 28 different co-operating nations? My fear is that if we fall apart now we will spend all our energies renegotiating trade deals, rather than focusing on the important issues that already need our attention, like climate change, global poverty and a refugee crisis caused by civil wars across the Middle East and Africa.
The problems we face in this country are far less to do with the EU than successive policies of austerity emanating from Westminster. The immigration that damages us in this country is the economic domination of billionaire Russians, Saudis, Chinese and Americans buying up large swathes of our housing stock to make a quick buck in the property market and pushing up prices so ordinary people can no longer afford to buy a home in their home town. Terrorism is homegrown in communities who feel disenfranchised and angry about western governments propping up corrupt regimes in oil rich nations. I think this is where the Remain campaign has had it hard. It is hard to champion a status quo that the majority of people know is not working. Vote Leave can easily dangle the shangrila of change before an exhausted and fed up electorate, but it just so happens that the majority of people advocating that change are the architects of the mess we’re in right now. That mess is domestic. These are not problems caused by the EU, they are problems caused by global capitalism and neoliberal policies advocated by a conservative political elite who are out of touch with the needs of the people. We do not fix these problems by leaving the EU. We fix them by changing our national government, staying in and championing a people first agenda in Brussels.
But all these things aside I am most frightened by the increasingly right wing rhetoric that accompanies the Leave campaign. I am Jewish and gay. I know my history and I know that prejudice starts small and gains strength when it is given attention. I am not saying that those who vote Leave are racist or prejudiced, but there is a large minority within that population who will gain confidence from a Leave outcome tomorrow morning. Fascism is on the rise all over Europe. Brexit could be the touchstone to embolden nationalism all over the continent. I do not want to wake up one day and find Nigel Farrage as Prime Minister.
So for me the Sliding Doors of 23 June 2016 lead to two very different futures. Vote Remain and we have work to do, but work we can embark on together with other like minded nations. Vote Leave and we turn our back on our neighbours and embolden the Right. It comes down to this. Who do we think of as family? For nearly 60 years we have had peace in Europe following two devastating World Wars. That peace has been forged on an alliance built on trade, shared values and cultural exchange. Because of this when people are killed in Paris we mourn in London. When people are struggling in Greece we offer support from the UK and when a British politician is murdered people from all over the continent speak out in outrage and sympathy. We may be different, but largely we embrace each other as part of the same tribe. I fear that Brexit will change that view, both from us to them and from them to us. And as soon as we are outside the tribe it becomes easier to hate, to compete and eventually to fight. I have benefitted from the longest period of stability in the history of this continent. Vote Remain to ensure that our children enjoy the same privileges for the next 60 years.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO CHANGE THE WORLD, REACH OUT.
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