Naturally, we all take things for granted. The saying “you don’t know what you have until its gone” is indeed true. To many of us, Brexit induced a sudden realisation that we underappreciated what we had until now.
I can owe one thing to Brexit. This sudden loss allowed me to renew my perspective on Europe. I’ve observed things I would never have thought of before. In the knowledge that things might change soon, I’ve taken care to make the most of the opportunities I’ve had.
“100 years prior, I couldn’t have called a German my friend”
Some people are inextricably linked with Europe through lineage or whatever. I, however, am not. Prior to Brexit, the EU was to me no different to NATO or the UN. Just another international organisation that we as an internationalist nation subscribed to.
Brexit changed that. I suddenly realised how invaluable the EU is and wanted to get involved with what it offers. This is where my relationship with Europe starts to become somewhat unorthodox compared to most people.
Almost by chance, I had an opportunity fall at my feet in Sixth Form. I was offered the chance to attend a Model European Parliament (MEP) session in Helsinki, Finland. Meeting people from other countries across Europe, staying with a Finnish family, and just experiencing what European cooperation is about. It began to open my mind further to what Europe truly means.
This is why I am immensely infuriated by the numerous war tropes thrown around by hard-line Brexiteers. They only show how ill-informed of our true relationship with Europe they actually are. It doesn’t help to be digging up old wounds to score political points when someone dares to oppose you.
Until my involvement with MEP, I only felt a sort of abstract connection to how far we’d progressed. You take for granted how we now cooperate with former enemies on a day-to-day basis. But upon leaving my first MEP session, I was struck by something rather poignant in a rather mundane interaction.
We’d bumped into the German delegation in the airport and we wished them a safe flight home. I then recalled the significance of the date: 11th November (Armistice Day). 100 years or 75 years prior, I couldn’t have called a German my friend. But now, we can co-exist because of our will to do so.
“The true judge of a country is what the rest of the world thinks”
Now, naturally from all this, I have been able to make friends across Europe. I speak with some of them almost daily. Going to other sessions has allowed me to build on this.
Naturally, discussion about Brexit eventually always comes up when I meet people. I’m firmly of the belief that the true judge of a country is what the rest of the world thinks. And in my experience, they are flabbergasted. They genuinely cannot work out what we are playing at.
A classic example of this was when asked by a friend from Malta. We had met a year prior in Finland but had since both been made Committee Presidents at a Model European Parliament session in Madrid. As we were chatting and catching up, he asks “Tom, I meant to message you about this as I wanted to get your opinion on it. I know what happened with Brexit, but why? What drove the people to that?”.
I felt relieved to be asked if I’m honest. I could discuss the anti-establishmentarian nature of it which often gets overlooked, especially when Brexit is discussed in the international press. I have since been asked the same question numerous times on social media by friends doing school/university presentations on it. I took solace from the fact that people wanted to know why, instead of casting us all off as a nation of isolationists.
I have been lucky. I’ve been able to meet people from Madrid to Tallinn, Helsinki to Valletta. I’ve had the opportunity to visit much of Europe. We need to recognise the sacrifices and hard work that have allowed our generation to coexist regardless of nationality or culture. And it is, wherever possible, incumbent on us to explore beyond the pale. You don’t always have to visit these places, but please engage with people where you can. In the end, the world is a village.