Could the question to start 2019 be: What can we, Great Britain, put in? rather than: What can we get out?

I’d like to focus my last blog of 2018 on a single question that arose out of a letter written by a German citizen and published in The Guardian. It is addressed to all of us here in Britain and I feel it captures the essence of the principles we celebrate and/or practice in some form or other over the Christmas period: family and giving.

It says: “Dear friends in Britain. Maybe you are not aware of what Europe will miss when you leave. We will miss your refreshing views, because living on the continent can give a blinkered viewpoint. We will miss your international experience and networks. We will miss your calmness and pragmatism. We will miss your long democratic experience in developing the future EU. Together we are strong! Please stay. We are waiting for you with open arms.

Regardless of what we personally voted or believe in relation to Brexit, I find it refreshing to read of our national strengths as seen from the perspective of Europe, particularly in these times when they are all but completely hidden by the incessant bickering and division. And so, I wonder if we couldn’t just press the pause button on all current discourses to change the main question from: What can we get out (for ourselves) by remaining / leaving?  to What can we put in (for the greater good)?

As the letter, and many more like it express, we are wanted and needed in the massive peace keeping project that arose out of the horrors of the Second World War. But we are so focused on what is best for us, on getting what ‘the people who have spoken’ want, that we are overlooking our potentially far more important role as a genuinely ‘Great’ Britain.

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United Enemies – Thomas Schütte (1993-4)

As a formerly victorious island nation protected by a whacking great moat, we underestimate the proximity of border issues to war. Unlike Germany with its nine borders or the many other European countries with five or six, we have little experience of being joined at the hip to foreign cultures, languages, politics or religions. And yet, history shows us again and again that it is healthy borders between countries that are the barometer of war or peace. We just have to look at our current ‘little’ issue in Ireland to see how difficult borders can be and what a huge impact a conflict of interests can have. That 310-mile border is stalling the Brexit negotiations with the EU, threatening a return of the Troubles, causing internal political conflict and creating an impasse that will ultimately affect us all adversely if it goes unresolved. Mainland Europe knows first hand the importance of borders united in cooperation and agreement. I sometimes fear we in Britain have become a little complacent about peace, yet it is surely the most important of all the founding principles of a European Union.

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May we rise to the challenge this coming year, to serve the bigger picture of peace and unity rather than just our national selves – in whatever form that may take. And with that I wish all my readers a very happy, inspired and peaceful 2019. Thank you for reading my blogs. I appreciate you!

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