Thursday, February 18, 2016

Emma was right – we are a bit “grey”–but in Europe there is hope for us !

Britain “a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island”.



Emma Thompson has caused a bit of furore with her remark - the dim and the humourless have been up in arms as has “The Sun”. So all good so far!

Ms Thompson was arguing that Britain should stay in the EU and that she will be voting in favour of this outcome. What her critics failed to spot was that by drawing attention to the picture of our “grey old island” ( a picture that we all share from time to time !)  she was being affectionate not critical. We are a small island. We do have clouds. It does rain a lot. We do have a cake fetish. We can be miserable sods at times. We can be very grey indeed. Above all we are “sort-of Europe”.

Travel in any of the other 27 members of the European Union and you will see the EU flag flying all over the place, usually alongside the national flag. There is nothing remarkable about that – at least to the nationals of those countries. They know that you can be French or Portuguese (etc.)  as well as being European. Such a statement of the obvious will never be made because it doesn't need to be. It is self evident. But here say that we British are also European or suggest that the European flag flies alongsdie the Union Flag on your Town Hall and you risk abuse!  This is the “sort-of Europe” that I think Ms Thompson was referring to.

As long ago as 1980 I drove from The Netherlands (where I lived at the time) to Spain, a trip involving four European countries, without showing my passport and mostly without even slowing down except for a few seconds at the border. And since then this freedom has further developed to the extent that 19 of the 28 EU countries use a common currency. I still get a sense of huge satisfaction from spending Euros I got out of a cash machine in Paris a few hours later in Barcelona or Munich or Milan. Meanwhile at London’s airports travellers are being ripped off as they convert their Pounds into Euros! Our “sort-of” Eureopeaness couldn't permit the idea of surrendering the good old Pound could it? Silly old French and Germans and Dutch and Belgians and Italians and Spaniards and the rest in not seeing that they needed to hold on to their ancient banknotes…Foreigners, what do they know? Ha!

And yet… English is the lingua franca across Europe and (mostly) our European partners rather like us. And don't we travel to see them? I doubt that you could wander for more than five minutes in any European capital without encountering a few Brits. We have been increasingly at home across Europe for decades – and not just in the Benidorms where everything is geared up for us! The irony is that some British people who are anti the EU in their attitudes are often those who most enjoy travelling in or doing business in our fellow EU countries.

I hope that if we do vote to remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum that this will lead to a confidence in us all not only that we are Europeans but that we can be proudly so. Again I think that that is also what Emma Thompson meant when she said”

“I do like the European Union, I think it's important that we are all united and I think we need to be better united.”


In short its not whether we are British or European (a binary choice) but a realisation that we are both – and much, much the better for it. We may be grey, but we can be gay (in the old-fashioned sense of the word !)  as well. Emma was right–we are a bit “grey” – but in Europe there is hope for us !


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