This is the text of an article I have written for the ‘i’ newspaper today…
In some respects, life in the limbo between the UK voting to leave the European Union and Brexit itself has engendered some unfortunate habits in discourse. As a radio host, I’ve done my best to ask questions that challenge prominent figures from all parties who hold all sorts of viewpoints, at a time where the balance and nuance of political interview is victim to either point scoring or delivering softball topics.
The divide itself also seemingly has the effect of harming our ability to listen to one another’s views, as the red mist falls faster than thought processes engage – and not just on Twitter.
It’s understandable to see with a topic that is so key to our country’s future role on the world stage. Another habit, which is a regular occurrence, is presuming that those who voted Leave are less than keen on our neighbours across The Channel. The urge to conflate the cultural with the political is something that can be seen on both sides of the debate. I voted to leave the EU. But my decision was by no means made due to any sense of not feeling like I have any kind of European identity, nor was it down to being closed to the cultural impact that Europe has had on me – and on the country more generally.
Just over 30 years ago, I graduated from the University of East Anglia with a degree in German, and ended up thoroughly fluent, having spent two years living, working and teaching in Germany. I fully intended to become a German teacher, being rather in love with the country, but life often has different plans.
I still speak the language – though with a slight coating of rust – and visit as often as work and life allows. Beyond culture, I also have genetic links to the continent. My grandmother’s maiden name was ‘French’, so I strongly suspect I have French blood in me somewhere too – I’m actually in the process of finding out more about my genetic heritage, as it’s fascinating to know where our ancestors’ movements have led us. So in short, while I’m no fan of the political entity that is the EU, I feel that although I identify primarily as English, and secondarily as British, being European is also part of my identity – and what a mercifully multi-faceted range of options and configurations that word covers. #EuroPartOfMe That’s why I’ve chosen to share my views in a new film, alongside a number of people from both sides of the debate that you might not expect (Alastair Campbell anyone?).
It’s the starting point of the #EuroPartOfMe ad campaign with AncestryDNA that encourages us all to find common ground in our cultural and genetic links to Europe – however we voted in the referendum.
It’s not just politicos and outspoken famous figures that are extending the olive branch though – members of the public have been sharing video contributions via an interactive video screen on the South Bank throughout Thursday and people can still record a message celebrating their links with Europe and share it on social media via #EuroPartOfMe on Twitter. Of course, not everyone will react in a spirit of reconciliation, and certainly nobody is likely to abandon pursuing their course of choice when it comes to either pushing through or preventing Brexit, but I hope by being involved I can do one small thing towards improving the understanding between the two camps and changing the way those who voted Leave might be perceived too.
After all, Europe will still be there across the water – and in our DNA – come 29 March next year.