At home and abroad: What does Europe mean?

The idea of Europe and the practicalities of Europe are, by and large, the differences between resident UK citizens and British expats. For many back home, it’s not unfair to say that Europe is seen as a behemoth of bureaucracy or the political right’s nightmare child that inflicts red tape, open borders and pedantic rules. For us, it’s a more complicated picture.

We need to be aware and accept that while living abroad has its many benefits, as well as some drawbacks, for many people back home the European Union is seen in a negative light. It’s background noise except for the seasonal holiday because most, unless they live in the EU, work in or with it, don’t see the benefits. The problem is even more acute for the younger generation who don’t recall the memories, or the aftermath, of a continent at war (its natural disposition for the last thousand years before 1945). It’s arrogant presumption to say that if the political and economic structures of the EU were dissolved then the cultural commonalities which bind us all today wouldn’t then descend into the realpolitik of bygone days.

Expats need to be aware that the argument back home isn’t governed by what’s logical, historical or what’s most beneficial to all UK citizens. It’s about a visceral gut reaction to the idea that we as a country exist as an irrelevant component, rather than an equal partner in a European Union of familial nations. We must be wary of retreating into what, in the nineteenth century, Lord Palmerston called Britain’s ‘splendid isolation’ from Europe. It might not be so splendid in the twenty-first.

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