The UK’s Farewell to Europe: “Au Revoir les Enfants”

March 29th 2017 will be remembered as the day the UK officially triggered Article 50 of the European Constitution, signifying a two year slog to disentangle itself from the European Union. I have no intention of browsing the glorifying headlines on the front pages of the UK tabloids. I’ll let the Brexiteers rejoice in their wickedness. In any case, what’s it got to do with me? As long as the UK leaves me alone, which it will, I have nothing to worry about. But I do worry, for the simple fact that I deeply love the UK and the EU. That said, I couldn’t help seeing the headline of The Sun newspaper “Dover and Out”, which did make me laugh by its sheer stupidity.  It can also be said that the white cliffs of Dover represented the fight of a lone country against a divided Europe. But were the British really alone during WWII? I don’t think so. In the latter stages of the war, they formed an alliance with the Americans, Canadians, Poles, and other countries, not forgetting the French Resistance whose support for the allied forces was instrumental in the final victory. I would have found “Land’s End” a more appropriate headline.

Au revoir les enfants

If I were the owner of a national newspaper, my front page headline would be “Au revoir les enfants”. This is the title of a marvellous film directed by Louis Malle, based on true events from his childhood. When aged 11, Louis Malle was attending a boarding school near Fontainebleau, when three Jewish students and a Jewish teacher were rounded up by the Gestapo, and deported to Auschwitz. The school’s headmaster was also arrested for harbouring them and sent to Mauthausen, where he died shortly after the camp was liberated. The film reminds us of what the EU has brought us in its 60 years of existence, peace in our time.

When I was just 15 years old, the UK joined the European Union, and an infinite number of possibilities was opened up for our generation. Today’s 15-year-old’s face the opposite, such as end to free movement, university and other diploma’s not being ubiquitously recognised, end to the UK’s participation in wonderful cooperation projects such as Erasmus. The total lack of respect of the Brexiteers was plain for all to see when Ann Widdecombe. appearing on the BBC’s Question Time, patronised a young girl who shared her worries about the future, and her regrets over not having had a vote. Widdecombe made a complete fool of herself that night, by also having a go at the French for not accepting to take in the Calais migrants. She didn’t seem to know that these migrants want to come to the UK and not live in France. Her attitude epitomises the very nature of the Leave campaign which entrapped the UK voters into voting Brexit.

After the June 23rd referendum result was announced, I wrote an article in which was published on a Dutch opinion website. I described the EU as a dinosaur, and said that if the dinosaur became extinct, I would hold the UK responsible. I’m still angry at the UK, but truthfully, if the EU does fail, I would no longer be tempted to blame solely the UK. I’m beginning to think that the EU can do very badly without the UK’s help. The problem with the EU is its sheer size. The membership of a large number of Eastern block countries on 1st May 2004, completed with the membership of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, has transformed the EU from what it already was, a clumsy, flat footed animal; into what it now is, a gigantic, unmanageable beast, doomed to die under the unforgiving forces of natural selection. The beast has become so big, that he spends most of his energy and time trying to keep warm and has no will left to do anything else. Where the UK and other EU member states, in particular the founding members, have been disappointing, is in their unawareness of what was really happening to the EU, and what will still happen, long after Brexit.

For many of us, the EU has provided unique opportunities. Over one million British citizens work and live in other EU member states, and over three million EU nationals live in the UK. We have benefited from the freedom of movement that, despite all the failures and faults of the EU, remains its principal raison d’être.

European ideals in South Kensington

I was educated at the French school in South Kensington. The Lycée Français de Londres (French Lycée of London) changed name whilst I was there. It was renamed Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle, after the French president. I find this now rather ironical because, during his presidency, Charles de Gaulle vetoed the UK’s application to become member of the European Economic Community, as it was then, no less than 3 times. He warned the EEC that accepting UK membership would cause its breakup. A visionary?

The school is situated on the busy Cromwell Road opposite the Natural History Museum. I returned to the school last october, when I visited London with my family. A group of students was waiting on the steps leading to the entrance hall in the same relaxed way as I had once done, all those years ago. You could almost feel the power of the vision of Jules Ferry, founder of the non-clerical French educational system.

The French Lycée and the Natural History Museum, together with the adjoining Science Museum symbolise, for me, the true values of a European ideal. Values of liberty, equality and brotherhood, together with endeavour, discovery and science. Robespierre, the French revolutionary and advocate of the poor and of democratic institutions; Darwin the intrepid discoverer who shocked the world with his insights; and Davy, who produced the world’s first “light bulb”. They, and others, all come together in our minds in one place. And what can I say about the Victoria and Albert Museum, also so close to my school, the largest museum of decorative arts and design in the world. The museum is named after Queen Victoria, the longest serving monarch the UK has had, and her one and only love for Albert, a German prince. Who says that European ideals never existed?

But these ideals are precisely what the Brexiteers voted against. The elitist ideals of an educated and united Europe cannot be transposed to the undermined regions in and around Sunderland or Stoke. The EU referendum was their opportunity to make their voices heard. Many voted not so much against the EU, but against the elite who governed them, at home or abroad. Furthermore, whilst many were mislead over the threat posed by EU migrants, others are just plain xenophobes who cannot be reasoned. I have severe doubts as to whether leaving the EU will make life any happier for those who voted Brexit. Whereas it is true that the EU is the source of cumbersome rules and regulations, one cannot say that EU members have their hands tied when it comes to shaping their respective societies. This is underscored by the fact that in the last report on world happiness, published by the United Nations, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden, rank 2nd, 6th and 10th respectively.

Now, we must pick up the pieces of a mirror that reflects the EU, and is beginning to crack from side to side. The negotiations are set to begin, and this is where opposing parties must never forget that the EU was first and foremost a union of people. EU nationals who live in the UK, and UK citizens living in other member states, believed in this dream, and have built their lives around it, thinking that it would last. I belong with these people, and it is inconceivable that we be asked to move back to where we came from.

Irrevocable rights of EU citizens and UK Expats

In the UK, even those defending EU citizens by saying that they are essential to the UK economy are missing the point. The number of foreign EU citizens in the UK and UK expats in other EU member states is totally irrelevant. Every one of us has acquired rights that should be respected and each one of us has willingly built a life away from our country of birth. There is really nothing more to discuss in this matter, our rights being irrevocable, and any hint of a discussion is nothing short of evil.

I was deeply in love with the EU, but now I am beginning to have doubts as to whether the EU will actually succeed, and indeed, whether the EU in its present form is a good thing. It’s not the idea of the EU per se that’s at fault, but the political leaders who disgrace themselves when leading it. They systematically promise us all one thing and deliver something else.

How can we trust these politicians and leaders on such an important issue as the right to continue living in the country of our choice?

This is Theresa May, just before the EU referendum:

The opportunities for the people living here in the UK will be more secure, will be better, if we’re inside the EU – Theresa May (April 2016)

And Theresa May, anno 2017? This is what a government spokesman told The Daily Telegraph, when asked why the UK was envisaging putting a stop to EU immigration even before officially leaving the EU:

We could end up with half of Romania and Bulgaria coming here if we wait that long.

“I will chain myself to the garden gate if I have to.”

As if half of Romania and Bulgaria would actually come to the UK, and why haven’t they already done so, I ask myself. I’m not even taking into account that when the EU was enlarged with former Eastern Block countries, the UK was one of three countries not to impose restrictions on the influx of migrants.  This sort of xenophobic and dangerous rhetoric has really no place in today’s political landscape. What would this lead to? UK citizens not being able to move to other member states of the EU. The UK would then go one step further by refusing to guarantee the existing right of residency of EU nationals already in the UK, and the EU doing likewise. And that’s where I come in. If Theresa May and the EU really think that they can “force” me out, they must think again. As a last resort, I’m even prepared to chain myself to my garden gate, if necessary. That’s how much I believe in the freedom of movement that the EU, for all its faults, has brought us. My message for Theresa may is quite simple and echoes the infamous phrase of one of her predecessors, Margaret Thatcher:”You leave if you want to, the Expat is not for leaving”.

The EU Job

I really hope that the divorce between the UK and the EU is a story with a happy ending, especially for the younger generation, because it’s the future of young people that is going to be negotiated and determined. For the moment, the Brexit saga is in its infancy, and how it all ends remains very much open to speculation. In my newspaper that I don’t actually own, I chose “Au revoir les enfants” as a fitting headline for the day that article 50 came into being. For the forthcoming negotiations, I suggest another title of a film, and in true Brexit spirit, the film is English. It’s the 1969 version of “the Italian Job”, which I would rename “the EU Job”. The last scene of the film is memorable. After a successful robbery of 4 million dollars worth of gold bullion, the getaway bus lies dangerously over a cliff-edge with the gold bullion sliding slowly towards the rear doors. Nobody can move without further tilting the bus.  Charlie Croker, the gang leader played by Michael Cane, issues his famous final words: “Hang on a minute, lads. I’ve got a great idea,” and the credits roll. A bus, stolen millions, hanging over a cliff-edge, a leader with an idea that we don’t get to know about? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.