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Brexit Would Betray Britain's War Dead

09/06/2016 10:02 | Updated 09 June 2016

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British soldiers who died freeing Europe, Bayeux War Cemetery, Normandy

Britain's most popular event for the centenary of the First World War in 2014, the planting of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, one for every British and Colonial military fatality, was a depressingly insular way of marking it.

After all that has been learned about the futile slaughter of that war, which left the shattered bones of men from so many countries jumbled together in the soil, why remember it by counting only your own dead?

That was the mindset of Brexiteers who perplexingly see Britain's fate as divorced from Europe's, and who are dismissing warnings about the importance of the EU for peace as scaremongering.

Voting leave on June 23 would betray those 888,246 soldiers and the almost 400,000 who died in the Second World War fighting to liberate Europe.

Twenty miles of sea hasn't shielded Britain from conflagrations in the past. Why should it in the future?

The guns won't start blazing on June 24 if the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson end up dictating Britain's fate. But Europe will have become a less stable place overnight.

It's obvious that other nations will want to follow suit. Germany will lose a counterweight and become even more dominant. They don't want to, but with the French economy so chronically weak, they inevitably will.

And this will all come at a time when nationalism is on the rise again across Europe. France might get a far-right president next spring, Austria missed having one by less than 31,000 votes last month, and asylum-seekers' hostels are being torched in Germany every week.

The Brexiteers argue that leaving will save hundreds of millions of pounds a week and protect Britain from the problems plaguing Europe such as the migrant influx and the euro debt crisis. But it will only end up weakening both Britain and the EU. Divisions and friction will grow in Europe and to deter copycats, the sullen 27-nation bloc on Britain's doorstep will do all it can to make life harder for the UK.

The jingoist mantra of the Brexit-backers is sickening. 'We're the greatest country on earth, we can renegotiate better terms.' Every country is a work in progress and Britain is no different with a lingering class divide and a political system that is badly in need of reform.

The downside for Britain is obvious - lost jobs, lost investment, a loss of power, a loss of workers' rights and those turds that followed swimmers around British shores in the 1970s, banished after the EU forced us to clean up to our act, might make a reappearance.

I agree with Chancellor Angela Merkel that Britain earned itself a special role for standing up to Hitler and putting its survival at stake. It already has that special status, with opt-outs from welfare rights for migrant workers, from political union, from the EU's charter of fundamental rights, from EU policies on security and justice, from the Schengen agreement removing border controls, not to mention the euro. Britain has its cake and is eating it.

So what logical reason can there be to split off from one of the world's great economic blocs, to deny oneself a seat at the table?

The answer is that logic doesn't come into it. Populists like Farage and Johnson are appealing to people's gut instincts, to fear of immigrants and xenophobia, to a deep-seated desire to stick it to the Eurocrats.

Those who reduce the European Union to an export market or to a cabal of self-serving bureaucrats are forgetting their own history.

There's another way of remembering the dead of the First World War. The "Ring of Remembrance" at the new International Memorial of Notre Dame de Lorette near Arras bears the names of 579,606 soldiers who fell in the region. They are engraved there in alphabetical order - not by nation.

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