Bristol For Europe

Stopping Brexit at all costs

I remember when Britain was broke and the fear of war in Western Europe was ever present

Reading this article by Geoffrey White, published by "Reasons2Remain" I instantly connected with every word written.  So many articles on Brexit talk about the economic implications of leaving the EU.  Rightly so, given the likely damage we and our country face from such steps being taken.  But this is not the primary reason why I love the EU with all my heart.

I was born in 1944 and so many my early memories in the 1950s are of a bombed out Birkenhead and Liverpool.  I lived in fear of what seemed an inevitable World War 3 and gave little for my chances of avoiding being sent out to fight for my country and to die young.  In those days the threat to peace was ever present.  When I was 17 the news broke of the Soviet Union building a wall across Berlin.  I shuddered.

How could so many of my generation so easily forget what Britain and continental Europe was like in the fifties, sixties and seventies? 

Please read Geoffrey White's words.  If you are old like me, search your own memories.  If you are too young, then LISTEN to what he says - please!

GEOFFREY WHITE

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I grew up in a time of post-war austerity. My country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was broke and virtually in ruins. Germans were still "the enemy" in children's games. Bomb sites and abandoned air-raid shelters were our playgrounds.

Nine years after the war ended, butter, meat and sugar were still rationed. We needed government coupons to buy sweets.

Portugal and Spain were fascist dictatorships. In Spain unauthorised gatherings of more than 3 people were illegal. A military junta later seized power in Greece. Half of Europe was sealed off behind the Iron Curtain.

I remember lying in bed at night, listening to the roar of American warplanes flying overhead on their Cold War missions. We were told that, if the Russians unleashed their missiles, we would get 4 minutes' warning of Armageddon.

Our currency was weak. We had exchange controls. Travellers were allowed to take only £25 sterling out of the country plus a limited amount in foreign currency. On return, any left over had to be sold back to an authorised trader. The details were entered in one's passport.

Despite some obvious miscarriages of justice, the UK still had the death penalty. In France they still executed condemned prisoners by cutting their heads off. In Spain they used strangulation.

The press and the BBC (there was only the BBC) were not free from government interference, and books, films and plays were censored.

Women were paid less than men for equivalent work and landlords could turn away black and Irish people with impunity. For private acts of "gross indecency" gay men were sent to prison.

During the 1950s, six similarly devastated European countries were determined that the catastrophe of war between them should never be repeated. They decided to work towards creating a single European economy.

The result was never "just a trading agreement" as some detractors now suggest. The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, provided for the free movement of goods, services, people and capital, with the stated aim of "closer relations between the States".

The UK was invited to participate from the outset but chose not to, thus missing the opportunity to influence the future development of Europe.

However, by 1961 it had become obvious that the economies of "the Six", (France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg), were growing faster than ours, so we applied to join.

It took 9 years of negotiations (and 2 vetoes) before terms were agreed. The United Kingdom officially joined the European Community on 1st January 1973.

In the 1980s many of our skilled workers took advantage of the free movement of people and migrated to West Germany, whose economy had overtaken ours. These British migrants were the inspiration for a popular television series, Auf Weidersehen Pet.

Since 1945 there have been wars in Europe, but none between members of the European Union.

Despite global economic storms, the EU's citizens in 28 independent countries enjoy greater prosperity and freedoms than at any time in history: freedom of movement and expression, freedom to trade across borders, and freedom from discrimination and conflict.

So far no member state has ever applied to leave the EU.

There have always been candidates to join but to succeed they must have democracy, the rule of law, a market economy and guarantees for the protection of minorities and human rights. They also need the support of ALL existing members, including us, without which they cannot join.

In my opinion it would be a shame if Britain were to turn its back on Europe, give up its voice and influence, and opt for an uncertain future. That’s why, on 23 June, I voted for Remain. 

Geoffrey White is a retired barrister living in Sandy, Bedfordshire. He has been interested in the EU ever since the negotiations of the 1960s, and voted In in 1975


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