Britain is part of the European family, and this is a fact of which I am extremely proud. But before I send any of you into a state of shock with such assertions, I assure you that I have not become a Remainian. Yet the reason for such confusion is clear; all too often, the political project of the European Union is conflated with the geographical and cultural identity of Europe.
If those of us who wish to leave the European Union are to win this referendum, this is the first misconception that must be overcome. Polling of the electorate has shown that there is a large minority who see voting to leave as xenophobic, in the truest sense of the word. This group share an appreciation of the artistic and social accomplishments of Europe, and in their minds they cannot help but associate a vote to leave with a rejection of trips to France and holidays in Tuscany. Yet this is simply untrue, and every one of us must constantly make the case that being anti-EU does not make you anti-European.
Only a fool would fail to appreciate the cultural achievements of Europe, or be unable to recognise how completely integral Britain was, and continues to be, to the artistic, scientific and political enlightenment of the European continent. From da Vinci, Mozart and Shakespeare to vaccines and antibiotics, Europe has been at the heart of global enrichment.
I would go further. Unlike some of my fellow Eurosceptics, I cannot and will not deny the political achievements of the European Union itself. When my father campaigned to join the Common Market, he did so to prevent his children from fighting a European war. He wanted to diminish the ethnic tensions and nationalism that led Europe to explode twice in a century, and this has been achieved. The EU has helped encourage Spain, Greece and Portugal away from military dictatorships, and brought them into the democratic family of nations. It has acted as a beacon for those countries who were under the Soviet tyranny and it showed them a different future, one of freedom, of capitalism, of prosperity, of democracy.
The historical importance of these acts cannot be understated. Yet I believe that the European Union failed to understand the implications of the fall of the Berlin wall, and refused to adapt to the new world that has been ushered in. It has continued to operate in the way it did from the 1950s onwards; an irreversible drive towards the concept of ever closer union.
Yes, Britain is a proud part of Europe. Yet the strength of the Continent lies in the diversity of its peoples and the strength of their national identities. The European Union’s refusal to acknowledge this reality means that it will erode and eventually eradicate our individualism. It is a short-term political construct that is holding back the European people at a time of unprecedented global change.
Britain’s bonds with the continent of Europe are too strong to ever be broken. Yet we are tied to a defunct European project that will do nothing but drag us down. Wanting to leave the EU is not anti-European, and it is a lie to pretend it is. The time has come to remove ourselves from this outdated drive towards a political, social, and cultural hegemony. We will always be culturally European, but we can also be politically British.