The Emotional Argument Behind the EU

Putting the economics momentarily aside, the ‘In’ campaign really ought to battle for British hearts as well as for British minds

Image: David Iliff

Image: David Iliff

There seems to have been some inexplicable shift in the past few years that has brought nationalism into the political mainstream. In America, Donald Trump’s isolationist populism is scorching through the presidential primaries, while in France the Front National is polling consistently well. The media have broadly condemned these two phenomena, but domestically the SNP and UKIP have taken Nationalist agendas into the realms of social acceptability. Even Yorkshire has an independence movement these days.

In the UK, it is surely naïve to think that this has nothing to do with centuries-old enmities: the Scots don’t like the English, and the English don’t like the French. Without a pretty serious raison d’etre (like say, despotic foreign occupation), nationalism is an ugly ideology. Defined by the OED as “an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries” it is usually a product of intensely negative emotion. It was bad in Napoleonic France, it was bad in Bismarckian Prussia, and it’s bad in 21st century Britain.

With this in mind, I find it troubling that the emotional side of the EU debate – the hot-blooded speeches and fiery populism – seems to be entirely dominated by the ‘Leave’ campaign. Slogans like ‘Believe in Britain’ are intended to enflame people’s passions, while subjects like immigration and sovereignty are often extremely emotive. All the while the ‘Remain’ campaign calmly trots out trade statistics, small-business petitions and job figures; all very important but unlikely to be heard above the massed ranks of isolationist middle England, screaming to anyone who’ll listen about how “Brussels has taken all our fish”.

For me this is the wrong way around; my feelings on the EU are profoundly emotional, but they fall firmly on the side of staying in. The EU stands alongside the UN as an international symbol of co-operation, solidarity and shared philosophies, and now perhaps as much as at any time since the war we need to promote these ideals both at home and abroad. The key shoud be in the word ‘Union’; it is to this concept that we should be emotionally attached, while the burden of statistical proof should lie with Eurosceptics. Even if you disagree with the EU’s current direction, the principle of a united Europe is surely a more worthy receptacle for our emotional commitment than nationalism.

There’s a victimhood issue here too. It’s noticeable that every time the ‘British sausage’ comes up on the campaign trail it is prefixed with the word ‘humble’. ‘The humble British sausage’. We’re the fifth largest economy in the world; our sausage is not, and has never been ‘humble’. The whole thing smacks of the kind of post-colonial inferiority complex that creates slogans like ‘make America great again’. Perhaps if UKIP et al. were less insecure about the humility of their sausages, they’d stop being so angry all the time.

My arguments here are not intended to be statistical or empirical – you can find all the economics online – but with anti-migrant fences peppering Eastern borders and the latest Eurozone crisis still largely unresolved, an ‘Out’ vote in June could be one more step back towards a fragmented Europe. Consider whether we want that.

What’s on the line here is not just the economic future of one country, but an entire post-war philosophy that unity and solidarity are better than division and mutual suspicion. If there is an emotional argument to be made here it should surely be to stay in. So God save our gracious trade bloc, and let’s put all this needless nationalism to bed.

One big European family: where baguettes and frankfurters abound, daddy gives Greece its monthly allowance and nobody, but nobody, mentions the war.

If you’re still not convinced, then google UKIP’s ‘Out campaign’ parody of the Baddiel & Skinner classic ‘Football’s Coming Home’. You want to let that win? Didn’t think so.

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