The EU was not conceived to regulate the curvature of a banana. It was conceived to regulate our propensity to kill each other.
Our continent has a startlingly violent history. Since 1600, the founder members of the European Union have been more or less consistently in a permanent cycle of war, recovery from war, then more war. It’s just 80 years since German bombers destroyed the Spanish town of Guernica, presaging the horrific carpet bombing of civilians from Bootle to Dresden. Yet, since the creation of the European Union, those founding members have enjoyed nothing but peace and relative prosperity. The longest period of sustained peace in our continent’s history since the Middle Ages.
As the arguments over what Brexit means degenerate into an endless cycle of economic claim and counter claim, this higher purpose – to promote integration, understanding and harmony – has been forgotten.
Perhaps it’s because it is today taken for granted and that a European conflict is absolutely inconceivable. It’s easy enough to point to history and the fact that previous generations have thought war in Europe inconceivable. They thought it in 1900 and they thought it in 1930.
We’ve already seen, in the case of Gibraltar, how certain headbangers on the right wing of mainstream politics will talk of sending in the gunboats with terrifying alacrity, as though Gibraltar was another Falklands, as though Spain were another fascist-led Argentina.
The fact that notable exceptions to peace in Europe, especially war in the Balkans, are identified as great failures of the European Union, rather than business as usual, just enforces the point. It doesn’t diminish it.
We are surrounded by conflict. In Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, along the Turkish border with Iraq. Global political tensions creep as surely as tectonic plates – slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly … then comes the earthquake.
That the institutions we erected after the Second World War, like the European Union and NATO, have been so effective in keeping us peaceful and prosperous, is to our great credit. But, as Harry Leslie Smith – one of the few alive today who can recall what it actually feels like to be at war with our near neighbours – recounts, this is a fragile state of affairs, dependent on the free-flowing nature of our open borders; the freedom of movement, of trade, of goods, capital and services.
British sacrifice saved the continent from the jackboot of fascism. If Britain today is prepared to sacrifice the freedoms of the European Union, we jeopardise the peace we created.
In the 1945 election, the Daily Mirror – at the time the greatest selling English-language daily newspaper in the world – republished Philip Zec’s famous cartoon, depicting a battered and exhausted Tommy handing the laurels of European peace to the people. On the front page of The New European, without apology, we pay homage to the same sentiment.
There are many good reasons to register a vote against Theresa May’s Hard Brexit on June 8 – but none more compelling, or less discussed, than the driving force behind the European Union itself; Peace.
Don’t lose it again.