The following is a transcript from the Michael Morpurgo BBC Radio 4's "A Point of View", which can be listened to here.
"We in this country once chopped off the head of an obstinate king in order to change our entire system of government, to replace a tyrannical monarchy with parliamentary democracy. It worked. And then it didn’t work. The democracy many had fought and died for in the civil war became corrupted and then tyrannical. We changed our minds, thought again, brought back a king, the son of the one we had executed and tried to weld together a monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The result may have been deeply imperfect but over the years we have won our freedoms, become ever more democratic, and many of us, although not enough, have shared in a great prosperity. And we can remove governments we do not like. If we don’t like the government that comes in we can, through our parliamentary democracy, think again and change our minds. That’s how it works. We are a free people. We have the freedom to change our minds.
A few centuries later, following the two great and terrible world wars of the twentieth century and the slaughter of unknown millions all over the world, a few European countries decided that forming a trading club of friendly, democratic nations was the only way to create a lasting peace, to create prosperity. They would forge a future together. We did not join at once. We thought about it. But we did join in the end. And in 1975, just to be sure that people supported the idea of belonging to this new Europe we held a referendum. 67% voted ‘yes’, 32% against. So, by a very large majority in a referendum we decided this was the way forward for us. We would be part of a family of European democratic nation states that had come together, essentially to forge peace and prosperity through trade and close cooperation.
For forty years and more we have been members of this club, with its considerable benefits and considerable costs, with all its ups and downs, its ever-expanding membership, its burgeoning bureaucracy, its set of ever more enveloping rules and complex regulations; its new currency, which we did not join; and with its pressure for ever closer union. It’s true that for many in the UK it was always an uneasy marriage. For others it was a positive way forward that enabled this country to leave the days of empire behind and forge a new place in the world alongside our near neighbours, our new European partners, many of them our erstwhile enemies. We were finding our European roots again. We were getting to know one another. Friends now. We had peace in Europe at last, after centuries of conflict. And we had ever greater prosperity, not equitably enough shared certainly. Unquestionably though this country benefitted greatly from being in Europe.
But for many there was a downside. We had a shared sovereignty now. We had a more limited control over our affairs and our laws. We were obliged to obey the rules of the club; a club that was demonstrably not democratically managed and many of these rules seemed both absurd and intrusive to our way of life. As opinion in the country on both sides of the debate hardened, as pressure within the governing Tory party grew, as UKIP threatened to undermine the Tory party vote, David Cameron decided to take the bull by the horns and called his referendum, sure as indeed so many were that the people would fall in line and vote as they were supposed to, to remain in Europe.
So followed the most bitter and divisive campaign most of us have ever known. Divisions, fuelled by claim and counter-claim with experts and politicians on all sides, cooking the figures, endlessly contorting the truth, relentlessly inventing new statistics, often damned lies of course, insisting that we would be better off if we left or if we stayed. The figures said so. This was democracy corrupted by untruth, democracy undermined, democracy invalidated. We were subjected repeatedly not to serious democratic debate but to absurd and dishonest promises and assurances. And on both sides: stay in and it would be Shangri-La continued; leave and it would be Shangri-La regained. All nonsense, all patronising, all deeply flawed. It was a propaganda war.
The people voted. We would be leaving Europe, sailing in our little island somewhere out into the mid-Atlantic, and anchoring ourselves closer to our best friend in the world with whom we have such a special relationship. They would see us right. They always have. Who needs Europe? We would divorce them. It would be easy. It wouldn’t take long. Forget how upset and hurt they would be at the break-up of this marriage, of this family. Forget all the benefits of being part of this family of nations. We were the fifth largest economy in the world. They would simply roll over and we could dictate terms. No worries. Simple. We would be out, sovereign again, free to rule ourselves, be ourselves.
Well, two years on it does not seem so simple, does it? Europeans resent the arrogance of perfidious Albion, how we seem to expect them to dance to our tune. And we resent them because they insist on us dancing to their tune. And as we all become ever more defensive, nationalism rises, old angers and resentments revive, arguments become ever more entrenched, on both sides. Promises and predictions of the referendum campaign are already all out of the window. There are no certainties, as we have been assured. Brexit did not mean Brexit. It meant going it alone and more isolated in a world where to be alone is to be ignored and marginalised, very probably poorer and more exposed than ever to danger.
And were we told about the difficulties now so apparent, over the border question on the island of Ireland? Were we told what effect it would have on the National Health Service if those many thousands of Europeans working there on our behalf were to leave? And it is now evident they will. And who will gather our fruit and vegetables, when the largely European workforce decide they would rather be in a country where they are welcome and where they can earn better money? Truth and consequences will out. Indeed they are out. We are on a hiding to nothing. As parliament and government wrestle with the unbelievable complexities of leaving Europe, as the cabinet struggles two years on to go to Brussels with a clear idea of our negotiating position, as we increasingly realise the impossible position we find ourselves in, it is surely time to accept that we have made a mistake, that whichever way we voted, things are not turning out the way we expected, that we should think again. Or are we too proud?
Europe has after all very largely achieved its main goal: to preserve the peace through ever closer ties of trade and travel and education and culture. We take that for granted at our peril. We should look to our history and the history of conflict in Europe. We should never take our European peace for granted. We made friends. We are friends. And friends do not desert each other in times of trouble. In Britain we should know this better than anyone. Europe, and the world, is in turmoil. This is not the time to turn our backs on them. We need them, and they need us. We should stay in the European family, help make the European project work, argue our case, support the best of it and try to get rid of the worst. We should admit our mistake and think again. It’s not too late. Let’s do it. Let’s think again."
Harpenden for Europe brings you the Brexit news, condensed.
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