My View, Mel Hewitt: Beware scaremongering over Europe

So the EU referendum is going to be the day after my birthday this year.

Thursday, 25th February 2016, 11:41 am
Updated Thursday, 25th February 2016, 11:45 am
David Cameron on the election trail during a visit to the Yorkshire Post offices in Leeds. Picture Tony Johnson,

The last time we had a referendum about staying in or leaving Europe, then called the European Economic Community (EEC), I was 14.

For some reason one slogan for the ‘out’ campaign still lives on in my memory. It was: ’Out and into the world’. The gist of the message if I recall it correctly was that remaining in the EEC would restrict our trading opportunities and food products such as New Zealand lamb would no longer be available.

It was part of a campaign that seemed to say the grass was greener elsewhere, that real opportunity for trade and prosperity was to be found beyond the continent.

Whatever the real issues at the time, scare tactics have in the intervening 40 years since we voted to stay in Europe, become more and more a staple of British politics.

Whether it’s visions of chaos if we withdraw or allegedly farcical rules and regulations governing our day to day lives from beyond our shores if we stay, extreme views are already being voiced.

So, how do we begin to understand all the facts and figures, the arguments, the choices? Do we have to be an economist, student of politics or analyst to make an informed choice on June 23?

Of course it’s important to read, listen and engage whenever the awesome responsibility to vote for something or someone is given to us.

But even more important I think is to open our hearts and minds to the bigger picture of what being ‘in’ Europe means and ignore the clichéd arguments coming from some individuals and groups.

Over the years ‘wine lakes’ and ‘butter mountains’, so called open borders and the European Court of Human Rights have all been hot topics when it comes to Europe bashing.

There are many great things about our relationship with Europe that don’t make the headlines, but nonetheless make a positive difference to our lives. The ease of travel, employment and human rights which protect us, and co-operation between countries to help keep us safe for example.

There are millions of British people who have also chosen to live in Europe – whether converting gites in France or soaking up the sun in Spain. I could talk more about statistics, but they can be twisted in any debate.

My worry is that we might vote to leave Europe on the basis of negative, scare mongering and - sometimes appalling - xenophobic nonsense about immigration.

I want my children and their children’s children to be part of Europe, to work with our neighbours to keep the best kind of peace and prosperity we can hope for – guardians of tolerance and inclusion, not outdated interpretations of sovereignty and strength.