Ask me what I am, and I reply, “I’m British.”
This gets me into hot water with my girlfriend, who corrects me, “No, you’re a Hongkonger.”
True, I am both, but in terms of Britain’s imminent referendum, I declare that I am British.
That declaration carries an implicit recognition and appreciation of the innate values of Britishness, such as dogged determination, loyalty, tolerance, understatement, defence of the underdog.
On a broader canvas, I also see equality before the law, freedom of thought and speech, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and prosecution, qualities that Britons share with their European counterparts.
In terms of self-gratification, I eat and drink the food and wines of Spain, Italy and France, amongst others; I listen to the music of Verdi, Brahms, Beethoven, Ravel, Satie, Stéphane Grappelli, Gypsy Kings; and I speak three European languages in addition to English.
All these matters contribute to my quality of life, not least because the sum is far greater than any of the individual parts.
Now, a narrow-minded collection of ultranationalists want every Briton to retreat into our island fastness, pull up the drawbridge and shout out our independence from behind the Union flag.
Independence? Where have these people been living?
They remind me of the whelk, that marine mollusc that shrinks back into its shell at the merest physical approach.
Independence is a relative concept.
The “whelks” appear to believe that after having severed our connection with the European Union, we will be free to negotiate terms with whomsoever we wish, but no more so than a man who throws up his job is free to find alternative employment.
The prospective employer will ask, “Why did you leave?”
Disconnected from what, collectively, are the historically most civilized countries in the world, even allowing for the EU’s manifest weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, we will disengage ourselves from what is probably the most tempering influence the world has ever seen.
Just beneath the surface of the beer-swilling yahoos of the UK Independence Party and its affiliates lurk the fascist thugs whose eugenics code is inimical to the qualities that define being British.
The immigration card, so obscenely flaunted by UKIP leader Nigel Farage et al., conveniently forgets that the British Isles are home to an incredible admixture of different peoples: Angles, Saxons, Huns, Romans, Celts, Normans, African ex-slaves, children of the mixed marriages of empire, Caribbeans, East African Asians, to mention just some; all now unequivocally British.
Whereas the furiously puce-colored face of the ultranationalist is easily recognizable as that of a “fascist”.
So, am I apprehensive lest these quintessentially British qualities are being diluted by successive waves of refugees from war-torn Asia?
Unquestionably, the ability of any community to absorb patently foreign in-comers depends upon proportions.
A gradual absorption, phased so as to impose the least strains on resources, is the ideal.
But Europe is facing a refugee problem the like of which it has not witnessed since the end of World War II.
England once rejoiced, quietly, in its role offering asylum to those fleeing from political persecution; 1956 Hungary, anyone?
Yet most of today’s refugees would most probably return to their homes in Syria if peace was restored.
The EU is unquestionably more effective against Putin’s Russia with Britain on the inside.
Brexit would effect great psychological damage to the European concept of unity for peace.
I am both aware and acutely critical of the EU’s failings.
But when my car develops a fault, I don’t abandon it; I get it repaired.
The EU’s machinery is in dire need of a major overhaul if it is to meet the aspirations of the communities it regulates.
I do not subscribe to greater political union: such an objective runs counter to the natural inclinations of its disparate peoples.
But the Common Market is objectively beneficial.
The shared objectives and the positive power for good must be fostered if the dark forces of fascist populism are to be countered.
The world is experiencing a viral infection of brutish demagogues, each preaching their own brand of rabid exclusivity: Trump, Erdogan, Le Pen, Assad, Farage — a universal Klu Klux Klan of hate mongers.
European civilization is the antidote to this disease.
Pontius Pilate’s only note in history is for washing his hands of responsibility. Is this what the political opportunists Boris Johnson and Michael Gove want to be remembered for?
I do not pretend to know what effect Brexit would have on the British economy, though it would certainly pitch us into the unknown.
Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying that I doubt whether any of the economic pundits can do more than guess.
But the quality of our lives is governed by far more than economics.
To sever our connection with the EU would set civilisation back and bring about a far-reaching diminution to our quality of life simply by virtue of the brain-shrinking effect on our perception.
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