Despite the EU referendum result, many Brits remain proud Europeans and do not want to surrender the advantages of EU membership. Joe Williams argues that the EU should offer voluntary dual citizenship if the UK leaves the bloc.
Joe Williams is secretary of Bristol for Europe, a campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.
The UK has been a member of the European Union or Economic Community for 43 years. Around three out of every five people living here were born since we joined. As a result, for many of us, our ‘Europeanness’ has long been a significant part of our identity. And far from diminishing this sense of affiliation, the prospect of the UK leaving the EU as a result of the recent referendum has in fact dramatically increased it.
Among the powerful and negative emotions that the referendum result provoked – alongside anger, regret, guilt and denial – was a sense of bereavement. The Leave campaign denied the legitimacy of a cherished part of our identity, and Brexit would shear it from us entirely, as well as denying us the rights, responsibilities and opportunities that the EU provides for its citizens. As elsewhere in life, it’s the threat of loss that perhaps best enables us to appreciate the full value of what we have.
The very feasibility of Brexit is of course far from settled. But should it go ahead, particularly in the hardest form that many believe is the UK government’s only option, surely it should be possible for the EU to accommodate the undulled passion such a large proportion of the UK population still holds for the European project – as well as our sense of fellowship with citizens of our continent overseas.
It should offer voluntary dual EU citizenship on an individual basis and enable us to retain representation proportionate to our numbers within the European Parliament.
It was in the early stages of another of history’s great democratic projects – the foundation of the United Staes – that Reverend Jonathan Mayhew coined the expression “no taxation without representation”. The sentiment still holds true, as does its opposite. Democracy is about pooling resources as well as sharing decisions, and any voluntary citizenry should also pay its share.
There has been a social media graphic recently in heavy circulation among UK Remain supporters that details some of the benefits of EU membership compared to the cost. Its premise is that EU membership is such great value that it would be madness for the UK to leave.
Brexit would inevitably remove some of these benefits by, amongst other things, obstructing free trade between UK companies and their European counterparts, and it will not be possible to mitigate the widespread economic destruction and misery that leaving will cause.
But even without free trade, 30 pence a day for all the direct individual benefits of EU membership represents remarkable value. Permit and visa free travel across 28 countries. The right to live and work in an area of over 4 million square kilometres. Free healthcare throughout. The protection of our security, employment, human and consumer rights as well as the environment. The chance to have a fair and equal say in the destiny of the third largest political and economic entity by population in the world, with the second highest GDP.
In fact, even at Vote Leave’s preposterous and discredited rate of £350 million a week – roughly 83 pence per person per day, or £303 a year – the deal would feel pretty sweet.
But voluntary citizenship wouldn’t just be about personal benefit or paying duty. It would be about responsibility. During such challenging times, we should ask not just what our continent can do for us, but what we can do for our continent.
As the referendum campaign taught us, the European project needs more passionate advocates willing to put their money where their mouth is. It needs loyalists that want to continue to contribute to its aims of peace, prosperity, liberty and justice. It needs volunteers that believe in and are willing to extol its virtues. And it needs bright minds to help it to continue to improve and reform.
By offering its magnificent social contract to those individuals in the UK, the EU would demonstrate the continued universalism of its mission and its ability to accommodate setbacks in a world where the journey to a progressive destination is rarely a straight line.
And by signing up, we would show that we Brits can be perfectly at ease with a multifaceted sense of identity – and that the dream of the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe remains alive throughout these islands between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.