The Europe Thing

Well, tomorrow (Thursday) we all get to vote. Then what?

Today The Guardian ran an article by a German music teacher who has made their home here for 18 years (look, singular they pronoun because the gender of the author isn’t specified). They worry if they will have to go back to Germany if the UK leaves the EU, and they worry that they might not want to stay anyway, because the atmosphere here has become so poisonous towards “foreigners”.

I’m afraid that my initial reaction to that article was to think that I have never felt welcome here. Sure I am a UK citizen, but every week something like this turns up in the newspapers reminding me that people like me are not popular with a large part of the UK public. I have plenty of friends here, but I am always worried that one day I’ll find a mob wanting to drive me out of my home, or that something like what happened with US immigration will happen to me here. In theory I have rights; in practice, who knows?

What rights I do have are mostly a result of rulings of the European courts. The UK and Irish governments both held out for as long as they could against allowing trans people legal gender recognition. The Leave people rail constantly against how the EU has “control” over British law, and how they want to be able to set their own laws free of European interference. What will that mean for me, and people like me, if Leave wins?

It is impossible to say for sure, but one of the leaders of the Leave campaign is Michael Gove, who happens to be the current boss of the Ministry of Justice. On his watch two trans women in prison have committed suicide and another, quite recently, was saved from a suicide attempt by prison staff. All three had been sent to male-only prisons. You will, I hope, forgive me for not having a lot of confidence in the future of my civil rights should Mr. Gove and his friends get to run the country.

Most people, of course, do not have my specific concerns. They are worried about the economy, about their standard of living. So much misinformation has been spread during the campaign that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about the UK’s prospects as an independent country. Besides, economic forecasting is my job, I know how dodgy it can be. But one thing does seem clear to me: the Leave campaign is all about walls and ditches. It is an attitude of “I’m all right, Jack, and I will fight to protect what is mine.”

I can understand that people are worried, and want to hang on to what they have. I can also see that people have been very deliberately frightened by scare stories in the media. Personally, however, I have never been a fan of isolationism. I have, after all, lived in Australia and the USA as well as the UK. I have also spent a reasonable amount of time in others countries such as Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark and France. I have briefly visited South Africa, India and Mexico, and I’ll be adding Spain to the list later this year. I have met lovely people wherever I have traveled.

The upshot of all this is that I have always believed that people of different countries, different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds can and should get along. Whatever problems we face on this small, watery rock adrift in the vastness of space, we are far better off facing them together than letting everything go to Hell and fighting over the scraps that remain.

The EU is far from perfect. Goddess knows I have uttered enough sweary words about their VAT laws over the past couple of years. But I also know that the VAT problem could have been much less serious had British officials been prepared to support and fight for micro businesses instead of taking every excuse to spread anti-EU sentiment.

We can, and should, do better than this. I’m not quite old enough to have lived through WWII, but my parents did, and a grew up with a strong impression of how awful that was. I did grow up under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction, and never did a political philosophy have a more appropriate acronym. I remember the sense of relief that everyone felt when the Berlin Wall came down, and I can’t quite believe how we have let all that hope and good will go to waste.

My choice tomorrow is pretty clear. I can vote to stay in a political institution that has promised to protect my civil rights, or I can vote for people who are threatening to take them away. That, as they say, is a no-brainer. That aside, it seems to me that the choice tomorrow is between sticking together in the hope that we can build a better world, or building a bunker in which we hope to hide from a world that is too terrifying to be part of. Again, I know which choice I would make.

When all else has been loosed on the world, Pandora, there is always hope. She will stay with you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

4 thoughts on “The Europe Thing

  1. sorry I agree vote in… But saying they made things better for trans* is utter rubbish.

    Lots of European countries had, until very recently awful rules. U.K. was very progressive compared to most of Europe. I totally disagree with that point of view Caroline Cossey didn’t get r so victories in European courts. Press for change and similar UK organisations made a difference and we were better than a lot of Europe still are now.

    Europe is good and I want to stay in it, but playing the euro card re trans isn’t I think accurate.

    1. Well you think incorrectly in this case. Press for Change certainly did great work, and were probably responsible for making our gender laws better than many other European countries at the time. We are now, of course, rather worse than several European countries because they have moved on and we haven’t.

      You may want to look up the case of Christine Goodwin v the UK from July 2002 in which the UK was found guilty of a breach of Ms. Goodwin’s human rights, and which led directly to the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act.

      At the time that the UK was forced, by that decision, to introduce rights for trans people, the only other European countries that did not have such legislation were Ireland, Andorra and Albania. We were well behind the curve at the time.

      This post on the Liberty website, written in 2002, clearly explains the situation at the time.

      There’s also this article on Buzzfeed which explains how much of the Equality Act is based on European law, and could be undone once we are no longer subject to those laws.

    1. I said that the UK and Irish governments both held out as long as they could, and were pushed into action because of their EU membership. Ireland was a particularly notorious hold-out because of the strong influence of the Catholic Church over their government. Nevertheless, they finally succumbed to pressure. I quote from the TENI article that you liked to:

      Beyond Irish borders, the Government is facing pressure from Europe on this issue. In 2012, following a trip to Ireland, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Mui┼żnieks, wrote to Minister Burton to highlight the lack of legal recognition of trans people. He expressed concern that no clear timeline was provided and stressed the importance of self-determination and the right to family life within the legislative framework.

      Ireland’s gender recognition law, while far from perfect, is now well ahead of what we have in the UK. Had they not been members of the EU, they might still have no legal recognition.

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