For the past few weeks, East Anglia Bylines has been publishing Our Place in Europe? as an adventure across the European Union, to try to explain honestly the chances of Britain once more becoming a member and how it might be achieved. So this is an attempt to look at what we’ve written about and learned so far, and where we might take the narrative in future. (Readers’ views and suggestions are most welcome.)
We deliberately set out to tell a story, though we weren’t sure (and we still aren’t) what the story is yet, or what the ending will be. That’s because it was planned as a conversation between people in the UK and in Europe who have something interesting (and often challenging) to say. We commission contributions according to where the narrative is taking us. So that means the editors learn as we go, as we hope do the readers.
We can’t rejoin. We start from scratch
But a narrative has to begin at the beginning, so our first contribution was on the need – before we can do anything else – to rebuild trust. Simon Pease mused about where we are at the moment and how well we are served by our politicians in The UK never understood the EU. Our MPs ensure we still don’t.
Then once we have at least begun a civilised dialogue comes the need to accept, as Britain has often seemed reluctant to do, that the EU is an organisation of like-minded countries striving towards a common goal. It is not all about trade. And that organisation has to be founded on laws and agreements. This introduced the real bombshell of the series so far, Jacob Öberg’s analysis of the legal hurdles confronting any new application to join: UK can’t ‘re-join’ the EU. We have to start from scratch.
Have we diverged from what is a civilised country?
It was clear from much of the readership response that, psychologically, this was an unexpected and despairing realisation. Professor Öberg showed how far we have already diverged not in matters of trade but in our political objectives and, sadly, the way we differently define what constitutes a civilised country. Given the depredations of the government’s politics – particularly in human rights – there already seems a gap between the UK and the acquis communautaire. (This is hardly accidental. The more bridges the government burns, the more difficult our future membership becomes. But it does suggest they know the game is up, and they are conducting a scorched earth policy on anything EU-related.)
Glowing praise, but also despondency
Though such distinguished commentators as Chris Grey, David Allen Green and Gina Miller all wrote glowingly of the analysis, some readers were despondent at his explanation that there is no easy way to ‘re-join’.
Yet the aim of East Anglia Bylines has always been to set out honestly the task ahead, before we can realistically tackle it. And the problem we were discovering – though perhaps we knew it already – seemed to lie with ourselves. So who are we? Once we decide perhaps we’ll tell the EU and When Europe chose integration, we looked back to empire both took a forensic look at the confusion over who we think we are.
But where is the hope?
But though seeing the picture clearly might itself provide a reason for optimism when there seemed little elsewhere, our readers probably desire something more tangible. There was discussion among the team that we might be painting too gloomy a picture. We all needed a quick shot of optimism, which hopefully was what Andrew Levi provided in Who’s afraid of freedom of movement?
At the outset we explained we wanted not only acknowledged authorities to write about the EU, but also the man and woman in the street.
We want to hear from businesses too. There have been many challenges for those whose business involves working with the EU. So we would be pleased to hear about your challenges and your views, if you’d care to talk about them. Please approach us by writing to our editor.
So what happened to citizens’ rights?
In Abandoned by the UK, welcomed in France Glen Carding explained how he has just become a French citizen, and in Barnier: citizens’ rights a priority. So what happened?, ‘British in Europe’ explained the plight of British citizens who still live and work across Europe.
Incidentally, we shall certainly be returning to those Barnier negotiations. There are some revealing tales to tell, including perhaps observations from a senior source who must remain anonymous.
Eating, drinking and having fun
There will be more from European citizens, mostly it seems while they are eating and drinking and having fun, but then to the British they seem to do a lot of that. Perhaps it’s why the Blue Meanies wanted to be rid of them.
We will feature politicians from the EU, those who remain anglophile in spite of everything, and perhaps also those who are pleased to be shot of us. And we shall inevitably (and with a deep breath) have to turn back to British politics to examine what roadmap might lead us where we want to go, and what we as individuals can do to make a practical difference. In the end, geographical, economic, cultural, historic and every other kind of constant will see us as members of the EU again. Our task is to point the way, and hopefully play a small role in helping us get there.