Over the weekend I spent some time discussing the European Union with my mother. Normally I would bore my friends with my rants and frustrations about the EU non-debate currently taking place in the UK. Unlucky for her, she was closest to me when I had finished reading Dominic Lawson's op-ed in the Sunday Times and listening to The Daily Politics.
With the comments left on my previous blog post still ringing in my ears, i.e. that I am too young to have an opinion and that 'people didn't shove before we joined the EU', my poor mother listened to me rage. She then said "Harry, I know two things about the EU: we are in it and we do not have the euro."
Once again I was reminded that we are currently in the middle of a debate about something no one really seems to understand. The best analogy I can think of, and that most of us will have at some point encountered, is the 'how do I pick a holiday destination' debate.
You want to go somewhere for a weekend break and you have two friends advising you on what to do. One hates Italians but loves vodka. The other has a pasta addiction and likes ruins. The former recommends Krakow, the latter recommends Florence.
Having been to neither destination but being simultaneously quite fond of southern Europeans and hangovers, I don't know who to believe. They both think the other's recommendation is incredibly bad but I have nothing on which to judge their accusations.
Are Italians really that annoying? Is my liver actually not designed to process pure ethanol? Should I be eating a high carb diet? I just don't know.
The similarities with the current debate about the UK's membership of the EU are obvious to see. There are two groups in the debate at the moment, both of which have no time for the other side and don't seem too bothered about whether they are basing their arguments on fact or fiction.
On one side, there are the sceptic romanticists, who pine for the days of British dominion over the globe. They dream of being free from EU restrictions and being able to trade freely as our Victorian forefathers once did. Despite not being very clear about which regulations and directives are stifling British workshops and factories, it is the EU's fault, not our hapless coalition's, that we are stuttering economically.
On the other, we have the idealistic dreamers of a United States of Europe in which nations are united by a desire to never again fight or bicker. In a world where China is rising and the US is declining, we must band together or face certain decline. Without the EU, the seas will rise, the banks will continue their rapacious, bloodsucking behaviour and the UK will be permanently doomed to irrelevance.
I'm no longer sure who to believe and, on the basis of my mum's assessment of the situation, most people don't either. I arrived in Brussels a committed sceptic, verging on being pro-independence. However I have had to accept that no, the situation is not black and white as the Daily Mail and Farage's minions would have us believe, and that yes, things are actually rather more complex.
I am now in the process of eating my words and accepting that my views were based on prejudice and what can only be described as ignorance. Not easy for someone as opinionated as myself. The situation is not one that can be boiled down to a simple question about whether we stay in the EU or not. There are dozens of reasons to stay in and dozens to leave. I am happy to call myself 'open-minded'. However I can only do this because I am not being shouted at by the patronising pro and anti camps who 'know what's best for me and our Great Nation'.
The comments in my previous post were left by people who were clearly very angry, so angry in fact that they didn't spot the fact I said I was neither pro nor sceptic. Apparently I am a brainwashed self-seeking eurocrat, hell-bent on squeezing every last penny from the European taxpayer to fund my lavish continental lifestyle. I can assure all concerned that I am not.
I am in fact open-minded about the UK's position in the EU. I want to understand what would happen if we left. I want to understand whether renegotiation is either possible or necessary. I want to see what the eurozone does to stop itself from imploding. And I definitely do not want to be asked whether we should stay or leave before I have seen the facts of the situation and had time to reach a conclusion for myself.
Unfortunately I think there's little chance of anyone calming down and being sensible for this to happen. This is no longer a debate about EU membership but simply an opportunity to watch Cameron and Clegg squirm and Labour contort themselves into an ideological mess. We can expect the same figures to be wheeled out to justify staying in or leaving. And there will be the same tired arguments that the UK faces an apocalyptic future both inside and outside the EU.
A ringing endorsement of modern British democracy.