We should be leading in Europe not running from it

PUBLISHED: 09:41 29 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:41 29 June 2019

An army veteran. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA.

An army veteran. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

On Armed Forces Day army veteran STUART THOMSON gives a personal account about why he is campaigning against Brexit, and why our membership of the European Union matters.

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I've been scared shitless quite a few times during my service career. Whether it was the alarms sounding for incoming rocket or artillery, the chemical alarms for the presence of a nerve agent or the simple shout of 'Stand-to!' to prepare for imminent ground attack. Considering I joined the Royal Air Force this really should not have happened to me. Six years working side by side with my colleagues in brown (the Army) had me straying from the path of an inside job with no heavy lifting to 'get your bloody head down'. Sometimes life's journey takes unexpected twists.

One of these twists was the 23 June 2016. An embattled Tory prime minister tried to quell the anti-European insurgency in his party with a referendum gamble and lost, badly. We have a saying in the military: 'Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents a Piss-poor Performance'. This was a classic example of the last three P's. Any leader who yells 'follow me' has a 50% chance of a bullet in the back. In this case it was a 52% chance and down he went. No political poppies for poor Colonel Dave.

Why am I telling you all this? On the morning of the 24 June 2016 I was once again scared, not for any personal safety reasons (no one was trying to kill me), but for the future of my country. I could see the path Brexit would take even at that early stage. The referendum campaign had been the prelude to a civil war in this country which still rages on three years later. All the war leaders published their plans for the great offensive. Plan Norway, Plan Switzerland, Plan Canada, Plan Fact, multiple Plan Fiction. No one but no one mentioned the nuclear option, Plan No-deal. Why? because no one would be that foolish. That would be like sending the Light Brigade into the Valley of Death.

For all this, the United Kingdom is still a great country. All this nonsense about 'We want to be great again!' should be seen for what it is: a rallying cry for those who, in fairness, have been left behind by successive governments. The empire is gone but we still have greatness: our soft power, our influence, our culture, our language, our inventiveness, our industriousness. We should be leading in Europe not running from it. The world is a big place and we have a choice to make: continue to be part of something bigger with our friends and allies in the EU, protecting our future and our borders (yes, they are controlled) or become a satellite state of one of the global powers. I would rather be agreeing rations with the EU than fighting for scraps from the Trump/Putin/Xi mess tin.

We need to make it clear to the new prime minister that we want to stop the Brexit chaos. That is why the March for Change is taking place on 20 July in London. The foot soldiers have a chance to stop the generals sending the country over the top into a hail of bullets. Veterans for Europe will be there.

- Stuart Thomson is the co-founder of Veterans for Europe

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