I walked the Camino across the northern Spain last autumn, from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. I made many friends along the way. We walked as English, French, Italians, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, Czech …and we walked as Europeans. We walked with Americans and Japanese and Koreans and Indians and Chinese … sharing our continent with people from all over the world who had been drawn to share our history and our landscape. The citizens of Navarra, Rioja, Castile and Galicia will I’m sure forgive me for saying that they represent not just Spain but a continent that until seventy years ago knew best how to pull itself apart rather than pull together.
So you wonder why in the current debate I’m pro-Europe, so strongly in favour of staying in? I’m English, European – and a citizen of the world. I look out rather than in, I’d take my country out into the world, rather than putting up impediments and turning inward. (Brexit supporters would of course argue that once out of Europe we’re open to the world. And I’d argue that we might just not get noticed.)
I believe in trade without borders, and a continent open to migrants and refugees. But always consistent with one thing – that we don’t water down what it is to be British – our language, culture, traditions, our way of life, our moral compass. They are our contributions to the world – as other countries have theirs.
There’s a balancing act required, and it’s that outlook I want to see influence policy. Begin with an open mind, and an open door. There may have to be boundaries, as the Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated. Some crises may seem all but insoluble. But they will not find final resolution unless we have that open mind.
And to take another key issue in the EU debate. Don’t close your borders (physically and metaphorically) and then build bridges into the air, not knowing if they will find resting-places on another shore. It’s those ‘bridges’, as proposed by Leave campaigners, not least the trade deals which in the Leave imagination will be easy to set up, that worry me.
I want to see us walking and travelling and talking and trading as English, Welsh, Scots, Irish – as Europeans – as members of a world community. Much will be at stake on 23rd June.