By Tim Otway – Treasurer
In celebration of Europe Day and to mark the common EU <3 UK action, what is the best reason for people residing in the UK to love the EU? (no limits on quirkiness)
By Tim Otway from YEM Warwick
This month we were fortunate enough to welcome our university’s Chancellor to a YEM meeting, who certainly had plenty of things to say about why those residing in Britain should love the EU. But it is the haphazard story of our very first, inaugural Chancellor which indirectly gives us the best reason.
Sir Cyril John Radcliffe is a name with which few on campus today would be familiar. Even fewer, I suspect, would recognise him as a hugely important figure in the Partition of India in 1947 – one of the most significant events in Indian history. One night in July of that year, our future Chancellor was told he had five weeks to draw a border between India and Pakistan – to divide, as the British saw it in typically oversimplified terms, Muslims from Hindus. The result – the largest mass migration in history – was an unmitigated disaster. Radcliffe was haunted by the experience for the rest of his life – refusing to accept his fee, he burnt his maps and never again spoke a word about what happened.
Clearly, Brexit or any break-up of the EU project would not entail disaster on any scale comparable to the Partition of India. But the Radcliffe Line is a valuable reminder that borders throughout history have often been drawn hastily in pen by high-ranking élites pursuing their own interests, indifferent to or ignorant of a pre-established reality. It shows us that freedom of movement is an unshakeable precondition of human prosperity; that its artificial restriction and readjustment always has severe repercussions. Brexit, for instance, evokes images of long, farcical queues for visas and work permits for those already well-established here, and condescending U.S. style checks for our closest neighbours – all just to meet the requirements of the newly emboldened line. At least the rigmarole of enforced security questions, no doubt promoted as ‘conversation’ in spite of the austere UK Border placard lurking overhead, might lead to new job opportunities for Holy Defenders of the Realm.
Radcliffe, deeply aware of his awful task, realised ‘no matter what I do, people will suffer’. He might as well have been talking about a Brexit commission – even if the UK were to retain trade-agreements and close-ties with the EU, there would necessarily be human displacement, restrictions on trade and cultural disharmony.
Those residing in the UK should therefore love the EU first and foremost because it embraces freedom of movement, from which so many have benefitted. In addition to immeasurably enriching the UK through immigration, freedom of movement has also enabled more than 1 million Britons to emigrate to other EU member states.
Radcliffe and his colleagues had no choice but to divide – orders from above and the impending power vacuum saw to that. We, on the other hand, do have a choice; we face no such imminent catastrophe. In the current climate, we have no need to take on the immense task of reorganising people into cultures and nations to decide where they should go, who must leave and who can stay. The ‘Australian points system’, so revered by the Eurosceptics, just seems like another inherently problematic and arbitrary Radcliffe Line in disguise. Just as the Radcliffe Line famously cut through single houses so that rooms in the same house were given to different countries, Brexit has a similar potential to cut through households. Even if the rooms inside remain untouched this time, the inhabitants without enough points might have to return to their home country simply because of political decisions. Is this not completely contrary to the ‘common sense’ politics on which Eurosceptics and the Right usually pride themselves? Surely common sense dictates that politics should not do-away with decades of cohesive, affluent cultural exchange; that borders should in general avoid impinging upon already established liberties, and that that division breeds discontent. But most of all, common sense says we should be immensely grateful that tasks akin to Radcliffe’s are not ours. Let’s keep it that way.