This is a blog I’ve started many times. Each time from a new angle, each time trying to find something that will convince one doubter to vote remain. But each time I have found myself unable to finish. The feeling of impotence as yet another article is added to the pile of pro-Remain arguments – mirrored by a pile of equal height of pro-Brexit – choked me, overwhelmed me, and I stopped. So now, instead of trying to write an article that makes the case, I simply want to write why I have made the choice I have and am voting to remain. It’s not a diatribe, it’s more of a diary.
Of course, there are the practical, pragmatic, monetary and selfish considerations. I’ve seen lots of figures bandied about, erroneous on both sides no doubt, but I am simply not convinced by the argument that we can have all of the economic benefits of EU membership without the membership itself or the investment which that membership requires. I’ve watched the value of the pound drop steadily with every surge of support for Brexit and can’t help feeling that tells us something. I also want to protect my rights to a limited working week, sick pay, holidays. I sigh with impatience as immigration and the EU are yet again conflated – as if 50% of our immigrants were not from outside the EU (a figure that would rise if we left), as if we could stop European immigration while maintaining our trade agreements. I groan in disbelief as voters with no experience of people who have immigrated feel the need to defend those ‘suffering’ elsewhere.
But, in the end, this referendum is personal, isn’t it? That’s why the interviews, the interactive graphics, the poll trackers all feel so futile. Because in the end each person will vote with their gut. My vote to remain has a lot to do with the person I am.
I grew up in Northern Ireland, but lived through very little of ‘the Troubles’, in large part because of the huge efforts of those on both sides seeking peace. I remember the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and experienced the stability of the years that followed. So my heart sinks when I think of leaving the EU. Of the border controls which would need to be imposed to stop freedom of movement through the UK’s only land border with an EU country. Of the smouldering tensions this would fan effortlessly into flame. “The vision of border controls plays into the hands of those who have yet to realise the armed struggle is over… Any step backwards is a really bad idea,” wrote Sir Hugh Orde (former chief constable of the Police Service Northern Ireland) earlier this month.
I am also the wife of a Spaniard. We met one summer six years ago when I got on a train, and he on a plane, and travelled from our respective countries (no visas) to Bordeaux. We lived there for a month, with a Belgian and a German, each giving tours of the cathedral in our respective languages to hundreds of tourists a week. Because I’m lazy (and a bit of a home bird), if I’d had to get a visa to go to Bordeaux, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. And the idea that I would then not be with my husband gives me vertigo to say the least. But what really gets me isn’t the inconvenience of a visa. It’s the fact that that Belgian boy and that German girl became our friends. That Spaniard became my husband and partner in life. So much of this referendum is predicated on fear – fear of what will happen if we leave or if we stay, fear of the faceless masses looming beyond our borders, fear of the people within our borders. I vote to remain because those people are my friends, our friends. Because I know I do not need to fear them.
And I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Christ who was a refugee. Christ who not only loved the outcast but welcomed them to eat with him and restored them to society. Christ who said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – not ‘leave your neighbour to sort out their own problems’. Christ who is Love.
I recently read someone who wrote that ‘If the Leave campaign was about how Britain could contribute more to the world if it left the EU then I’d be interested. But it’s not. It’s about how Britain can give less and take more from the world – and how it can keep the rest of the world out.’ And, to me, that’s it. If my vote is not about how we can care more for the vulnerable, about how we can contribute to the good of our communities and our planet, then to me it is worthless. The campaign to leave has revolved around what we get, what we lose, on who we hate and who is hurting us. That is what wins if we leave. I cannot reconcile it with my calling in Christ. And I, in conscience, cannot vote for it.