“My father died in February this year, at 85 years old. He was a staunch brexiter, and always had been. He was of the generation that saw the second world war, but was not old enough to understand or play any part. He was a farmer’s son. My mother is the daughter of a market gardener.
My dad voted No in the EU referendum in 1975. And so I grew up with anti-EU beliefs; with nothing to balance them, and otherwise fairly moderate, sensible, political views, I respected my father.
It was only when I left home that I came to see how his views didn’t make sense; laws he didn’t like were blamed on the EU, and the decline of Britain’s agriculture sector was the EU’s fault. The inefficiencies of having to heat glasshouses in our climate to produce tomatoes didn’t register with him, perhaps because he was of a generation where green issues were never considered important. And the more I looked into it, the more it made sense for us to be working together with our neighbours for the common good of all.
Then, at the age of 21, I secured an industrial placement in Switzerland; I lived for a whole year in Kleinbasel, 5 minutes on my bicycle from the German border, and 15 from the French border. My office window overlooked the Rhein, and the Black Forest in Germany. I learnt about borders from first hand experience; lines on the map being just stones on the ground, and a change of field crop. Although customs existed on entering and leaving Switzerland, there were essentially no restrictions between France and Germany. Two countries, historically often at war, now not just at peace, but working together. But there was a change at the border; a cultural change, and a language change. This was something I found fascinating, and amazing to experience.
Fast forward a few years (OK… decades), and the thrill of living in different cultures, and learning about them, is something I have been able to help students in university to experience, part-funded by the Erasmus scheme. I’ve visited some of my students out on placement in Germany. And it’s fascinating to see students going through the same sort of experience as I went through years ago. They all come back with their lives enriched from it. Not only that, but their language skills improve, and their job prospects for the future are enhanced. And, as I say when recruiting to students from other countries, spending time outside your own country, and looking back at it from the perspective of another, you see some of the faults in your own country. When you return, maybe one day you will be in a position to help fix those faults.
And right now, the faults in the UK are manifest more than ever. We have just lost many opportunities that we previously had. We cannot give up the fight to regain these lost opportunities for our young people, and indeed for ourselves. The EU won’t go away, and without it our future will be poorer – not just financially. This is why we must never give up the fight for it.”
Angharad Shaw is a University Lecturer