Reconnecting Europhiles: A place to be

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In my previous articles I suggested that there is a minority of ‘Remainers’ in Britain who supported the Remain cause primarily because they identify strongly with the European Union (EU) in particular, and Europe in general, rather than (as with most Remainers) primarily for pragmatic reasons of cost and benefit. I include myself in that minority, whom I dubbed Europhiles. I suggested that we Europhiles are now stranded in a country where we will find it increasingly difficult to feel at home. What can be done about this?

Previous articles in this series:

Committed Europhiles, as I defined them, probably number only around 4 per cent of the population (in my estimation) so we can’t reasonably demand much in the way of special treatment from the other 96 per cent to assuage our loss. If we are to address our problem, we need to offer something to a much wider constituency that links us up with many more of our fellow citizens. We need something for all of those for whom Europe is part of their identity, strongly or less strongly (maybe 15 per cent, possibly a lot more) plus all of those for whom it could become part of their identity. And we also need the goodwill of people who take, or might be persuaded to take, a more pragmatic view of the Brexit issue. Potentially that means nearly everyone. That’s perhaps too distant a prospect, but our agenda needs to speak to as many people as possible. So how can we frame that in a way that works for the 4 per cent, for the 15+ per cent, and potentially for everyone else? Perhaps instead of asking for special treatment for a small minority, we should ask for respect for a big idea, the idea of Britain’s European identity. That doesn’t exclude anyone. But it would enable Europhiles like me to start feeling comfortable in this country again.

In mapping out this agenda I shall largely avoid the economic dimension of Brexit and also most of the politico-diplomatic dimension, as these are being finalized at the time of writing and dominate discussion of Brexit at the moment. Also, I shan’t include anything about rejoining the EU. I guess most Europhiles would ideally wish the UK to rejoin, but the prospect of that being achieved in the next 20 years is very uncertain.  So my focus will be on a social and cultural agenda that would allow me to inhabit a Britain I can identify with. Central to this would be a series of developments, owned by [this or the next] government and overseen by a government-appointed body. How much government money should go into it is open to discussion, and this is clearly a very bad time to be asking for money at all. But sooner or later that will have to be addressed.

The main components I would suggest are as follows:

Recognition. This would involve public acknowledgement by the government that Britain has a European dimension to its identity, that it is legitimate, important and positive, and that it deserves institutional support. This is my own priority, but it’s also rather nebulous. My suggestion would be for a government-supported ‘quango’, a Britain-in-Europe Commission to promote and oversee some of the other parts of the programme that I’ve set out below. It also involves remaining as a member of the Council of Europe along with almost all other European countries.

Education. This would involve facilities for everyone who wants to be culturally European and wants their children to grow up culturally European. This might include European languages taught more widely in British Schools, European schools in Britain, pro-EU universities, plus British scholarships to attend EU universities and schools and EU language scholarships. Ideally, of course, it would also involve staying in Erasmus+. Some of this already exists, but it would need to be expanded, supported and foregrounded as a coordinated set of provisions.

Science. This would involve EU research scholarships and other research opportunities for British scientists in EU research institutions. Again, some of this happens now, but could easily be allowed to wither. It needs expanding, coordinating and highlighting. The opportunity to remain in the Horizon programme needs to be sensibly costed too.

Culture and media. This would comprise support for outreach/outposted activities from EU cultural agencies and programmes, financial support for EU-oriented news, cultural and social media and support for EU-oriented voluntary organizations including youth organizations.

Travel, residence and citizenship. Travel and residence provisions that have been lost through Brexit might be partly replaced by specific provisions, allowing residential access to EU countries for specific agreed purposes. Those purposes might be related to the other items on this list. But they might include purposes such as residing in an EU country long enough to qualify for citizenship.  This will probably be a difficult area, since much of it will be in the gift of the EU, which may be unsympathetic if the UK government asks for this. But it needs to be on the list. 

More from East Midlands Bylines:

In terms of resourcing for this, the following would probably be needed: Continued co-operation between the UK government and the EU on most of the above, with built-in liaison between the Britain-in-Europe Commission and appropriate departments of the European Commission. Adequate resourcing for the Britain-in-Europe Commission, including the allocation of reasonably senior civil servants. A network of facilities, in London and regional centres, geared to providing space and support for the educational, scientific and cultural provisions listed above.   

All the above are valid recipients for state provision, as are education and culture generally. It is open to debate as to whether Britain-in-Europe has a right to taxpayers’ money for these provisions at this time. That would be hard to argue just at the moment, and hard to argue with the present government. But the case needs to be made persistently and widely as soon as ‘Brexit is done’.

How would this relate to the wider pro-EU movement in Britain? It is very difficult to predict how far such a programme would energize the political and economic rejoiner cause. Some people may well be willing to live as Europeans under these arrangements, and thereby feel less need to maintain their political involvement in rejoining. If this programme were effective, the sense of loss of Europeanness that fuels some people’s commitment to rejoining, might be eased, and that might weaken their motivation to ‘fight on’. On the other hand, if a Europhile population were to grow and prosper under this programme, and if it were to continue, flourish and expand down the years and the generations, those people would be natural rejoiners in the longer term. So the balance of Britain’s culture might be shifted in a European direction, with likely political consequences.

Paradoxically, ‘getting Brexit done’ could open the door to a renaissance for Britain-in Europe. We simply need to make it happen.   

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