The EU Is Like Any Other Relationship

For many of us, the referendum to remain in or leave the European Union poses a very tough dilemma: do we risk what we know or take the plunge into the unknown? If we follow our own path, will anyone be interested in us? Will the friendships we've built up over the years survive? Can we afford to go it alone? Will people think less of us?

A couple of years ago I made another gut-wrenching decision. I’d met a lovely girl who I shared stability and affection with; we had mutual interests, but were different enough to keep things interesting; we largely shared the same goals, even if we went about achieving them in alternative ways. In short, we got engaged, planned a life together, then I cancelled the wedding with six weeks to go.

The thing is, the relationship wasn't right for me. It started off well, although the warning signs were there early on. I'd be expected to follow certain "mutual" rules only to find they didn't actually apply to her. I was limited as to who I could be friends with outside of the shared circle. She had "rights" to do things that redefined UN conventions.

Take the various arguments about finances: we put in relatively fairly, but the money we did contribute was largely spent how she wanted it spent. It was costly taking on a two-bedroom flat by myself, but at least I could shape it and - crucially - decide who could come and go.

People in the UK have been debating membership of the EU since I became politically aware in the early 1990s. This is no spur of the moment decision. Each of us has our reasons to feel dissatisfied. For me, it is (and was) about control. This isn’t about having full control, but having a fair say in what’s most important to me.

The Remain campaign is appealing to the British natural love of conservatism (yes, a small ‘c’) in suggesting that we should stick with the status quo. Much like marriage, staying in the EU is tantamount to accepting ever-closer union. However, it is only an institution. No one is saying we don’t like Europeans. No one is saying there aren’t commonalities between the peoples of Europe. No one is saying things can’t be even better if we drift slightly apart.

I’ve spent the past two years extricating myself from my personal situation. It’s required me to move back to the UK; it’s cost me a lot of money; it’s led to period of immense lows and self-doubt. I’ve also been called brave more times than I can remember. I found a strength I didn’t think possible. I’m now enjoying a level of independence I thought I’d lost with the main cost being that I now have to do a few more things for myself.

There's no happy ending to this tale. I’m still single. However, every time I look back on the decision I made, I know it was the right one. It's not because it was THAT bad. It's just that I knew in my heart it was never going to work long term. I tried to convince myself that it would get better, that it would become equitable, but it never did and was never going to be so.

Finally, a metaphor for anyone considering the argument that another war in Europe is more likely as a result of the EU breaking up: the cost and pain of staying within a failed relationship only to divorce would always have been greater than breaking off an engagement. The UK was at the forefront of global politics before the EU was formed and still has more than enough going for it. If things had changed for the better over the 40 years, would we even be debating this topic? It’s time to get out before all confidence is lost… or it gets very messy.

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