This is the second vote on Britain’s membership of Europe in my lifetime (and yes I know the Leave brigade will quibble that this isn’t about “Europe” the continent but the EEC/EU but the tenor of the debate shows it’s about something much deeper than that). I can’t pretend to recall the eve of the first one, but I do recall my teenage exchange trips to Germany at around the same time. This was only 30 years after the end of WW2: war wounds were still raw and I recall my aunt objecting to my journeys into the camp of the enemy, as she saw it. Those exchange trips were formative in more senses than one. Leaving aside my worries that I still hadn’t learnt the subjunctive, my love of the German language was deepened by trying to decipher the slang of my fellow teenagers on bike-rides to school and over beer at the Stube discussing the merits of Uriah Heap. And becoming a member of a German family for a few weeks must also have contributed to my sense that Europe is in my DNA. Ich bin eine Europäerin.
In the 41 years since then, there has been a constant nagging refrain of Euroscepticism from the right, and occasionally from the left. But the fever of xenophobia whipped up by the Leave campaign would have been hard to imagine until Boris Johnson set the unseemly tone a few weeks ago.
It has poisoned the atmosphere for the many European colleagues who have chosen to come and live in the UK, and who contribute to the UK’s economy and culture in so many ways: from the colourful plethora of languages one now hears on any train and in any large city, to the care given to our elderly and ill in our hospitals and nursing homes.
I cannot believe that a majority of my fellow-citizens will be blinkered enough to follow this poisonous rhetoric tomorrow.
Wir sind Europäer.