At the age of 10, in 1982, I went on a school French trip to Normandy where we followed a well-trodden path around the region’s famous sites: the Basilica at Lisieux, the Bayeux Tapestry and of course the Normandy Beaches.
I have one specific memory of a trip that has otherwise faded in my mind.
On an overcast afternoon, we visited the Pointe Du Hoc, where the Texas Rangers scaled the cliffs to a promontory where German gun batteries were pounding the Omaha and Utah beaches below.
That’s pretty exciting stuff for 10-year-olds, but that’s not what I remember. A small group of us followed the French teacher’s husband to the remains of the fortifications.
It was rumoured that the husband had fought in the war, possibly even in Normandy. We discussed what it must have been like for him on the beaches in June 1944, what it must be like for him to return.
We decided that we couldn’t ask him what his actual involvement had been, so we had no idea if he was there or not. But that didn’t matter. His presence personalized for us the rows of white gravestones we’d seen earlier in the afternoon in the cemetery close to Omaha Beach.
That gentleman – his name was Pitman – was of the last generation to fight in European wars. My father’s generation the first not to have to.
And that’s the primary reason I have voted for the United Kingdom to remain a part of the European Union. Whatever its faults, and heaven knows there is no shortage, the EU has achieved its first and most important objective: it has kept the peace among nations that have been at each other’s throats for two millennia.
That’s not the only reason I voted Remain.
My life and, I believe, the life of our nation has been immeasurably enriched by our membership, by the free flow of people, ideas, trade and culture that it has enabled.
For the past nine years I have worked for two great European technology companies, the last four of which have been spent living in Madrid. I am delighted and proud to have among my friends people from pretty much all 28 nations: Spaniards, Portuguese, Finns, Germans, Bulgarians, Estonians and so many more. We’re also blessed to have family throughout the continent – in Ireland, Wales, Germany and elsewhere.
To paraphrase the late Jo Cox: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again … is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
So I’m thrilled that my 10-year-old daughter speaks fluent Spanish (and not just because she can help us through conversations we would otherwise become lost in) has Spanish friends and has had the opportunity to be immersed in another culture. (I’m less thrilled that as a result she now speaks English with an American accent, but that’s a different story).
I’m excited for my 16-year-old daughter that when she leaves education she can work anywhere on this amazing and beautiful continent – Paris, Rome, Berlin, Helsinki…
I’m proud that my 14-year-old son understands these ideas, that he knows what it is to be European, that his horizons have been raised beyond little England, and that he knows he’s better for it.
I’m sorry that the Remain campaign has chosen to focus so much on the negative elements of its campaign: on the economic dangers of Brexit, although I’ve no doubt that they’re absolutely real, and that a vote to leave would be an act of financial insanity.
I’m sorry because I think the European Union is the most beautiful idea: Twenty eight nations working together to build a safer, stronger and more prosperous Europe for all of us. The challenges that face all of us today – economic, environmental, security – are global. We can’t meet them alone, only in harmony with our partners and friends on the continent.
And if the EU is flawed – and how could it not be? – then Britain’s place is inside it working to make it better, to make it live up to the idea. Not to turn our backs on it and try instead to find our way back to some mythical British utopia.
I’m sorrier still the disgusting Leave campaign has chosen to focus its hateful, mendacious campaign and stirring up fear and resentment of immigrants.
I also believe passionately in the benefits of immigration – economic, cultural and otherwise. Europeans (and others) have made our country a better place, whether it be in our hospitals, our restaurants, our schools, our football teams (that’s you Dimitri Payet you beautiful free-kick-scoring-genius), our schools, our everything.
And with our position as the 5th (or whatever) richest nation in the world, we shouldn’t be demonizing the terrified, impoverished refugees on Europe’s doorstep. We should be working with our European partners to help them find safety and security.
So when I see Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster rousing his rabble by exploiting the misery of men, women and children escaping death and destruction, it makes me so angry I can barely contain myself.
That’s not my Britain. I want no part of an isolationist, fascist, mean-spirited Britain in which populist demagogues rise to power on a manifesto of fear and hatred.
My Britain is a place of tolerance, openness and decency, a place of hope, charity, and optimism. It’s a refuge for the weak and impoverished.
It’s a vibrant, multi-cultural Britain at the political heart of our magnificent and diverse continent.