One of the first things I thought I should do is read some books. Problem is, the most recent ones are published last year, and for good reason, I suppose, as the closer to the general election they were published, the sooner the books would be rendered obsolete. I guess the two books I picked are already kind of redundant, but I’m reading them anyway just to get thinking. I finished the first one last night.

Hugo Dixon is clearly quite a learned chap – a prominent financial journalist who was at the FT for a decade – and he probably knocked off this small reader over a wet weekend. Despite being called The In/Out Question it is essentially one long “in” argument, although Dixon does list extensive improvements he would make to the current system, none of which I expect would be as easily achievable as he suggests. He likes the single market, he likes the idea of the EU ratcheting up its competitive edge, he likes free movement between countries, he thinks it’s crucial for the EU (with the UK firmly included) to be a single, strong front in the face of huge growing markets like China; he acknowledges that Brussels can meddle too much and that red tape could be “cut” (a slightly awkward clash of idioms) and he hates the Common Agricultural Policy. His points are well-organised with plenty of statistics to back them up, but the writing is slightly flat and unpersuasive; I wonder whether this book would manage to turn any eurosceptic’s opinion around.

The other problem with the book is that it’s almost wholly economically focused. There are hardly any cultural points for good or ill, and the few which squeeze in are a bit perfunctory: when discussing how we as a country are culturally getting closer to the EU, the best proof he can muster is that “we are enjoying more and more continental food – tapas, wine, pasta, Greek yoghurt, you name it.” It could be a line out of a 1970s school textbook.

He also fails to convince us that free movement of people isn’t causing a serious problem in some parts of the UK, with the rather whimsical notion that “the more people experience cross-fertilisation [of cultures], the more people like it”, then going on to discuss how popular foreigners are in London. No shit, Hugo… but what about in Kings Lynn or Lowestoft?

The difficult thing for me is that I agree with most of what he says, and of course I want it all to be true and for everyone else to believe it too. But very little is spoken about “what if we don’t” vote to stay in the EU. One sole paragraph is dedicated to what would happen to UK citizens residing and working in the EU, and EU citizens residing and working in the UK, if we left; although Dixon does give oxygen to a dark concept that the country’s pro-Europe press would do well to bandy around a little more: namely, that we have no way of knowing how the rest of the EU will react to the UK leaving. They would be perfectly within their rights to tighten border controls, turf out Brits, make trading agreements tricky, the works. We have no reason to presume that our erstwhile union partners will simply say, “okay, fair enough, you’ve left, now let’s try and make it as easy as possible for you.” Quite the contrary – it may get decidedly spiky, especially if the UK start to play tough with euro migrants. That eurosceptic Tory MP with his holiday home in the Dordogne may well have to get a visa to visit it, in a worst case scenario – or even pay a hefty tax on it.

In short, The In/Out Question is a quick, worthwhile read if all you want to do is confirm your already pro-EU feelings. But as for convincing eurosceptics, or even swaying those on the fence, the pro-EU brigade are going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this.

Next: Europe: In or Out? by David Charter

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16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to vote in the UK’s EU referendum. Change.org are running a petition, I expect it’s not the only one of its kind. If you agree: go for it, click the button:

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Most 16 and 17 year-olds I know are more clued-up and au courant with the world’s social comings and goings than people in their 30s and 40s. It’s probably because they’re at school, they’re learning right now, and their minds aren’t yet battered by insurance policies, having kids, mortgages, and booze, which they’re not supposed to drink yet. But really: the outcome of a general election lasts four or five years, so it’s not a complete disaster if teenagers miss the boat in having their say. But this referendum’s influence will last decades. The thought of some socially engaged, firingly intelligent 16 or 17-year-old not being able to have his or her say, but some overweight 50-something Sun reader plodding down to the polling station and voting for Brexit “because of all those damned foreigners” makes me so cross I want to start hitting things.

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Primarily, this is an attempt to do something positive about a situation I feel needs action, rather than just me sitting around speculating, complaining and worrying (accompanied by the occasional short, unsatisfactory paragraph on Twitter and/or Facebook). Namely: the prospect of the people of the UK – my country of birth and residence – being given the chance to decide, by referendum, whether they wish to remain in the EU or not.

A big decision, and a complex one. My natural view on the subject is that I wish the UK to stay part of the EU, and I expect this view won’t change. However, by writing and conversing about it, I hope to find out precisely why this is. I have my own, strong, personal reasons for wishing the UK to stay in the EU, but I want to assemble an arsenal of wider, more general, perhaps more sophisticated reasons, if I can. Whatever the outcome: conversation is good, and conversation will certainly be needed over the next year or so, to keep us informed and sane. But the internet can frequently be an aggressive and volatile place, so it’s important that this conversation be reasonable and civilised.

Traditionally, I know next to bugger all about politics and – more so – economics, so I hope to improve this a little. Also, as any glance at the British newspapers will immediately tell you, much is going to change during the run up to the referendum: deals will be attempted, negotiations will be lost and won, politicians will alter stances, opinion polls will fluctuate, news barons will jump sides. Like I mentioned above, I suspect that throughout this process my own position won’t shift: but you never know.

Worryingly little has been written about precisely what will happen to the couple of million EU citizens already living in the UK, if the UK votes to leave. Will they instantly have to apply for visas and work permits? Or will there be some sort of automatic waiver for those who’ve been working, living, bringing up families and so forth, in the UK – for really quite a long time? I want to know.

And the blog title? “Europe Stay with Us”? Shouldn’t it be “UK, Stay with Europe” – or similar? Well, there are a few reasons for this, all of them somewhat wishy-washy, but never mind. It’s party inspired by a Daily Mash piece in which it’s revealed that the “27 member states of the European Union have demanded a referendum on whether Britain is allowed to stay in – voters across the continent will be asked to choose whether Britain should have to follow the same rules everyone else does, or can just fuck off.” Aside from it being bloody funny, I was struck by the unhappy notion that, in fact, the rest of Europe are in all likelihood fairly cheesed off with the UK’s comings and goings: wanting to keep the pound, not joining in with Schengen, and the almost daily bashing the EU receives in the British press. Whatever the outcome of the UK referendum – and I expect whatever it is, it’ll be a close run thing – I passionately want the people of the mainland continent that I love to stay with us, i.e. stay with us in spirit, not to ignore us, turn their backs, pissed off that some of the Brits have rejected them. Also, it’s a prosaic invitation to the same group of people to stay with us, i.e. physically. I wholeheartedly believe that the presence in the UK of Italians, French, Spanish, Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Dutch, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Swedes, Danes – you get the picture – makes the country a damn sight better, and the thought of any of them finding it hard to remain here fills me with disappointment, sadness and frustration. Lastly, if the unthinkable happens and the UK really does vote to leave, I do not want the vibe and atmosphere of the UK to return to a more small-minded and xenophobic (as opposed to racist, and there is a difference) era. I was born in 1973, so I have never known my country to be not part of at least the EEC (or “common market”, as I can still hear my mother calling it) – but I do remember what it was like prior to the formation of the EU in 1993, and during the eighties it was a considerably duller, less cosmopolitan and more antiquated place. Nostalgia aside, I personally don’t want to go back there. So, irrespective of the referendum result, Europe Stay With Us is an instruction to the spirit and varied vibe of Europe to remain permeated throughout our land, as I really believe – as a nation – it’s good for us.

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