Are you for Britain remaining in the European Union or for Britain leaving the Europe Union? The Westminster rendition of 'to be or not to be,' which all of us will answer in a few months. Predictably, those outside the Westminster political bubble are confused by the issue with much of the general public reporting that they have no idea what either a vote to remain or leave would mean. It is my impression that in the corridors of power in Downing Street does not know the answer either- particularly if the country votes to leave- and so is it any wonder that the general public are confused? Although I would think a remain vote would be clearer because what we would get is what we by-enlarge already have and it is for the leave camp to paint a vivid picture of life on the outside.
But from the British perspective, Europe currently looks like a frightening mess, and this goes well beyond economics. The refugee crisis, which is ongoing, saw the largest movement of people across European national boundaries since the end of the Second World War. The numbers are so great that some European States are talking about creating a refugee placement quota scheme, where once refugee status has been approved in one European State, a centralised body can allocate refugees to settlement in any European Union State bypassing normal immigration controls (although this would be done with the agreement of each European Member State). It should be pointed out here that at this stage this is unlikely to come to pass due to opposition from anyone who isn't Germany. Beyond the refugee crisis, we have an issue with terrorism and general security from the Paris and Brussels attacks. And that's without getting into the economic troubles in places like Greece and beyond.
However, we cannot approach the European Union Referendum vote due to take place on Thursday 23 June, without examining the role social prejudices plays in informing our choice. We have an in-built distrust and fear of Europe which stretches back many centuries. Being an Island has afforded us natural protection from some of the most violent episodes within Europe. Relative to the rest of Europe we have been invaded few times but I think the fear of invasion is greater than the reality of it. If we consider the European reformation which was a violent period in British history, but some historians estimate that half the German population died during the wars the reformation brought about. Lest we forget that over 70 years ago the cities of the UK were set a light by German warplanes. The Black Death, Napoleon, Hitler and slightly farther afield Soviet Communism (which threatened to engulf Central and Western Europe too), it's not hard to see how a cultural memory can form that says 'nothing good comes out of Europe.' And it is this cultural memory which I think many will call upon when deciding on which way to vote.
Looking at the European Union through the prism of another foreign entity trying to subjugate British independence is unquestionably how many view the EU. I am not implying that most people see the EU through this lens, but a noticeably sizeable few do, and it is very much part of our national identity. We cannot have a referendum on the European Union without questioning our cultural inheritance- the debate is not really about economics- it is about much more than that. It is about who we are and who we want to be. It seems incredible that the generation that actually lived through the Second World War (when a European power was actually at our throats) was the same generation that took us into the European Union. A pause for thought is necessary here and we would not be doing the vote justice without it.