An ordinary Englishman’s view on why the UK should stay
Former Metropolitan Police officer Chris Wicks participated in the 1975 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to the EU. 41 years later, he shares his view on why Britain’s future is still brightest at the centre of Europe.
The #brexit way of thinking is simply ‘not cricket!’. The British character is to be involved and to show leadership, not to run away when the going gets tough. In our modern disposable society, it is all too easy to throw something away that does not fit perfectly. However, if something is not working you should try to fix it, not throw it away.
My first vote
I am of the baby boomer generation, born in 1956 to a British army soldier and a British army nurse who met in Palestine. They were doing what their generation did at that time, serving the nation trying to bring peace to a troubled place in a troubled time, grateful to have survived WW2 and anxious to get home and live peacefully in a safer, better world.
I was brought up in Bromley, Kent, happy safe and free. The world had become a better place for those of us in Western Europe, although the mysterious world behind the iron curtain was a real and sinister threat. The failings of the first half of the 20th century were in the minds of adults. On the other side of the channel our European neighbours were forming new partnerships and alliances for peace, prosperity and the protection of citizens.
From school I joined the Met Police Cadets and after my protected and safe upbringing I found myself experiencing the real world, the good, the bad and the ugly. Police service taught me a great deal; the overriding lesson I gained was the power of the community to do good. My first vote as an 18 year old was the 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EEC. I voted to join. It seemed a tough decision listening to both sides of the debate, but ultimately the power of a community working together for a common aim amidst a dangerous world seemed the obvious and right thing to do.
A little adventure
Fast forward to 2005 and after 30 years service, I retired from the Met Police to take a little adventure somewhere in the world. My partner and I bought a few acres of olive grove and a tumbledown stone cottage and got to work, learning Greek and engaging with the Greek community. We opened a holiday cottage rental business, basing ourselves between West Sussex and Greece.
Our small business brings us customers from all over the world, but predominantly from Europe. We are all defined by our national characteristics and a Europe that did not reflect the Balkan character, the Mediterranean and the Northern countries would be a dull place. The EU’s motto ‘united in diversity’ recognises the different cultures, languages and characteristics of the member states – no one joined the EU to give up their identities.
A special position
Great Britain has negotiated a special position during its evolving EU membership. We are EU members and in this modern world that seems exactly where we should be, united in diversity, learning and changing from our mistakes.
The world is facing a succession of problems. The Greek debt crisis and the refugee crisis are at the forefront of our minds. Terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels are frightening. Yet Britain is uniquely secure.
We remain outside the Euro currency and cannot be made to bail out the European Central Bank or any of our fellow European countries in efforts to stabilise the currency. We are making progress on the refugee crisis through a united EU effort – as an international player, the UK cannot bury its head. As a former police officer, protecting London from terrorism is something I know a bit about. I do not see any significant threat to our security from the EU’s borderless Schengen area, which we have opted out of. On the contrary the ability to travel freely in central mainland Europe but not to the UK without border controls actually means we are safer than those countries who choose to participate.
The big picture
Living and working in the UK as an EU member has been good for my generation. We have benefitted from wealth gained through property price inflation, secure jobs and good pensions. To get clear answers on the EU, we should think about our history and why the EU was created, and the benefits it can provide for our family and future generations.
Euro-scepticism is healthy when it questions policies and initiates evolution. Something as large and complex as the EU has to respond and evolve to new challenges and there is a process through which that can happen.
The people, when called upon to make a big decision like remain or leave, need to think about the big picture and not get too drawn into the minutiae as presented by the politicians and campaigners of either camp. All around me in the media and social media I can see the negative #brexit campaigning with a big mixture of political motivation behind it (most significantly in my view Boris Johnson’s bid to become our next PM).
Great Britain outside the EU will not get an easy ride in any future trade agreements. There would be bitterness within the EU. Brexit would massively destabilise the whole EU block, it will encourage and strengthen the extreme right in France, Germany, Greece and other countries.
Should Britain leave the EU, all the lessons learned in the first half of the 20th century will be completely forgotten in the 21st. There is a mood for change across the EU and that should be pursued. As an EU member, we can continue to build the road to reform within a dynamic EU that respects different nations and characteristics, leading to a better world. Our future within a constantly evolving EU will be better, more secure than the alternative. Every vote is vital to the outcome of our future as a nation.
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