The EU referendum in the UK – peace may be its first casualty

I write this in early April with the referendum on EU membership due in late June.

It will be 100 years then since my great grandfather John died in the Battle of the Somme, aged 37.

My great grandmother Sarah Rachel married again later, and her second husband Thomas died at sea in the Merchant fleet in the Second World War, aged 59.

We only found out recently her family were Jewish, something she never spoke about.

Bare facts. Troubled and sometimes terrible lives.

It is generally thought that the referendum result could go either way. I fear the overall vote will be to leave, mainly by the English, with the fewer people of Scotland, and maybe Northern Ireland, voting to remain in. Wales’ vote may depend on who is blamed for the loss of the steel industry — Westminster or Brussels.

And the day after the vote? Scotland pushing for independence from the UK — the English really — and to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland driven back into irreconcilable Unionist and Nationalist positions. All for a referendum which has everything to do with the Westminster politics of a divided Conservative party, a vote which will cleave the fissure in the party whatever the outcome. Perhaps to the short term advantage of the opposition.

How did we get into this position?

Leaving aside the personalities and the micro grievances of the day, let me suggest a deeper approach. We live in a time when almost every political discussion is economic. We have to argue for social, cultural, or environmental improvements on economic grounds. Only the NHS so far remains an ethical and moral decision. Even climate change can only be tackled, we are told, if there is a sound economic case.

I would not be surprised if some bright person in HM Treasury was asked to prove economically that the security services “pay for themselves” in terms of their safeguarded national income from tourists.

So we have become just a Single Market. The EU is now all about the economy, and big business has captured the EU institutions and narrowed the debate. We have an EU where every policy position can be summarised on a spreadsheet.

And what of peace? What of binding together peoples whose leaders, if not their own instincts, seem too ready to pick a fight? From the Ukraine to Syria, war is not far away. Nor is NATO the answer to peace-making, because at best it is a peace-keeping force. Peace has to be made first.

We need an EU which is fundamentally a peace-maker first and foremost. Economic, social and environmental security are essential parts of this mission, but they are all secondary, to be used internationally as the means to an end in overcoming the causes of war. We need the millions of school exchanges, of young people working in different countries, of marriages between people from combatant countries.

Otherwise, it could be all our children who will have to learn afresh the lessons from war, and who will remind us what we threw away, slowly then suddenly.

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