EU referendum: Why it’s crucial to remind ourselves that the European Union and Europe are not the same thing

 
Mo Metcalf-Fisher
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Europe and the EU are not interchangeable terms (Source: Getty)

It’s got to that stage in the EU referendum campaign where we need to remind ourselves, again, that Europe and the European Union are not the same thing.

The Remain campaign love to try and guilt trip people into voting to stay in June’s referendum by reminding us of the importance of being part of Europe. So much so that the lead campaign, Britain Stronger in Europe, make a deliberate point of referring to the magnificent continent of Europe (the one that has existed since time immemorial) rather than the political EU that was officially created in the Maastricht Treaty.

Just today I read about a strange new campaign tactic deployed by one pro-EU group that encourages its European followers to offer unsolicited cuddles to British voters in a fad known as "#HugaBrit". This is run by a group dubbed "Please Don’t Go UK". The aim is to "show British people some love" and to convince them to vote remain.

Read more: EU summit set to take place days after UK goes to vote

Now, it would be all too typical of me to dismiss this interesting stunt as being inherently anti-British by nature of the fact that most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of being randomly accosted in the street, so I’ll just critique the basic concept.

Being European does not mean belonging to an EU member state system. I’m certain these same people wouldn’t turn to our Norwegian, Icelandic or Swiss friends (who are not EU members) and accuse them of not being European. So how can anyone, in the event of a Brexit, turn around and say Brits aren’t European?

Can we make it clear that a Brexit vote will not mean having the British Isles airlifted and dropped off somewhere in the South Atlantic? Geographically speaking Britain is in Europe and it will likely remain that way, regardless of Brexit.

Read more: Brexit not likely to lead to fall in immigration

I know it sounds obvious, but given the rhetoric of some remain campaigners, I’m not so sure.

Also, wanting to get out of the EU does not mean having some irrational problem with people from Europe, as much as some remain campaigners would like to suggest otherwise. For example, I share my life and adore my partner who is originally Franco-German. Like me, she’s campaigning fiercely for Brexit knowing full well the benefits it would bring to this country and the ramifications it would have on the rest of the EU.

With the prospect of a Brexit on the cards, pro-EU fanatics who dream of an eventual united federal states of Europe, are getting increasingly anxious. They know, as has been reported on numerous occasions that other European member states like the Czech Republic, Denmark and even France will be more likely to call their own referendum in the event of Brexit. You see, the UK remaining in the EU is like a political game of jenga: pull out one piece and you risk toppling the whole thing.

Would that be a bad thing? No. We could create a separate mutual arrangement that would see European nations focus on trade and co-operation rather than being part of a project that’s eventual aim is a federal Europe.

We’ll still be able to have our holidays in one another’s countries; we’ll still be able to do business with each other and trade; we’d be able to migrate; students will still be able to study across European countries (as Icelandic and Norwegian and citizens have been) and we can still exchange information relating to security and intelligence in order to combat crime and terrorism.

We just won’t have to go along with following bizarre EU legislative rituals that cost us billions of pounds to sign up to and can get on with running our countries in the way our respective people see fit.

So remember, as the pro-EU leaflets and hugs come your way: Europe and the EU are not interchangeable terms. You can love Europe without having to sign up to supporting the EU.

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