When I voted for Britain to remain in the 2016 EU referendum, I did so with some complacency. It was an easy choice that needed little thought; I was happy with the current situation, and so voted for the status quo. I didn’t need more information to make that decision, I knew what I had was good and voted to keep it.

While I’m confident that the choice I made was the right one, it’s weighed on me since that I should have had a greater understanding of the underlying politics of the situation. I should have made that decision based on more than just my personal experience and it amazes me that so many people could be so confident in their understanding of the historical context and potential political outcome to vote to make such a momentous change in Britains position in the world.

So, I decided to do something I hadn’t done since school: I started to read history books.

What’s the real problem with Europe?

It seems to me that a big part of the problem is pretty simple: most people, myself included, don’t know enough about European history. I mean, everyone knows the headlines: the World Wars, Hitler, the Nazis…did I mention Hitler?…but very few understand that modern Europe, the peaceful, interconnected, egalitarian Europe, isn’t the continent’s natural state. Europe without the political and economic structures put in place following World War 2 is …not a fun place to live.

For most British people European history stopped somewhere around 1950. The Europe most people have experience of is a continent in stasis, and it’s this that breeds complacency. We British are so used to getting on with our daily lives that it’s impossible to connect modern Europe to the tumultuous nation-states of the recent past. Sure, every year we pop on a poppy, commemorate the fallen of long ago wars, and pay our respects, but do we fully understand the experiences of these people and how the tradgedy of their deaths came about?

It seems unfathomable to someone living in 2018 that Germany could be at war with France, or that Poland could be considered “virgin territory” ripe for invasion, or that European nations would step back as Czechoslovakia is subsumed under another country, or that innocent people could be killed in their hundreds of thousands, but these events happened within a human lifetime, and will happen again if we don’t properly maintain the structures which have prevented them for the last 60 years.

Leave those kids alone

The British education system doesn’t help with this. Admittedly, it’s a few years ago now, but all I remember learning in history class were dates, places and names in languages that I didn’t understand. I didn’t truly understand the significance of these events and so I didn’t absorb anything. It’s only recently that I could locate Ukraine on a map, or identify most of the Baltic states. Without Eurovision, I wouldn’t have even heard of Andorra.

Take the Ukraine/Russia situation that pops up occasionally in the news as an example. It’s impossible to fully understand the significance of this unless you follow the threads back to Hitler’s invasion of Poland and subsequent attack on the USSR. The Russian annexation of Crimea should ring alarm bells across Europe.

In modern history, we see countries like Austria and Czechoslovakia and Poland as permementant fixtures of Europe; nations which have always and will always exist. But this wasn’t always so. In, fact Poland, in the broadest sense of history, is a comparative newcoming.

The boats gently bobbing on the surface of modern Europe do so above strong currents flowing deep below. The European Union is the foundation on which modern Europe and peace across most of the world is built.

The men who would destroy Europe

But what is strangest to me is to see men and women with a privileged background education promoting withdrawl from the EU. People like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Jacob Reese-Mogg. All men who should, given their backgrounds, understand the complexities and history of international politics, but fail at every stage to take this into account.

These people without a doubt understand fully the implications of the policies they advocate (either that or they are fools) and yet they still go ahead despite the consequences. And this is the problem of so many men who speak with a stately voice and a perception of class but are prepared to abuse it.

Before there was a hint of a referendum to leave the EU the British didn’t care about it. The EU ranked as a non-issue in poll after poll for years until the right-wing of the Conservative Party made it an issue.

The British voted to leave the EU for three reasons:

  1. A small number of influential politicians and newspapers blustering about the EU.
  2. A lack of understanding of the political and historical context of the EU.
  3. Rampant inequality and a despirate need for change.

We need to teach the history of the European people and our place in it, not just bland names, dates and places. We need to understand that the stationary world of today hasn’t always existed and isn’t guaranteed to exist in future without a continually strengthened foundation.

Leaving the European Union is an insanity that we will regret for decades, maybe even centuries to come. Forget the economic impact the and problems trading across borders. The real threat is a return to the divided nation-states of post-war Europe continually pushing against one another instead of working together.

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I read a lot and write occasionally.

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