When thinking about the upcoming EU referendum it seems clear that this vote is not going to be won or lost based on numbers and facts alone: emotion and perception are deeply embedded into the discussion. And while those campaigning to ‘Remain’ have strong economic and rational arguments on their side, those campaigning for ‘Brexit’ seem to be making a stronger emotional case.
After all, as popular narrative tells us, the UK does not need the EU; we are perfectly capable of taking care of our own business without the EU’s interference and our history is often used as a case in point. In fact, some of the rhetoric makes the referendum sound like the proverbial Battle of Britain that would culminate in one glorious celebration of independence on 23rd June. This argument has undoubtedly gained a certain traction and cleverly builds on our sense of patriotism.
This sense of patriotism is not often used by the Remain campaigners. While Brexit has occupied the emotional space, Remain is mainly relying on facts and figures. However, facts and figures alone will not be enough to convince voters for one or the other side: people faced with data or information that does not seem appealing can simply choose to ignore it.
It is clear to us that the Remain camp needs to strengthen their emotional argument if we want people to see our positive vision of EU membership. Reaching out to British voters with emotional argumentation and showing Remain to be the true patriotic choice is crucial. This is not to say of course that emotional means irrational or not based on facts, rather it enhances rational arguments and provides an additional dimension. Many rightly predict voter turnout to be a deciding factor and a passionate and emotional case for Remain will ensure that the supporters of EU membership actually cast their ballot on the day (Kirk, 2016). But of course there are also still plenty of undecided voters – it is crucial that we appeal to these through emotional arguments as well.
For the authors of this article, the emotional argument speaks just as loudly as the economic and political ones. We grew up with one British and one German parent, and we both feel European as much as we feel British. Growing up in this constellation is nothing unusual these days, but just a few decades ago it would most certainly have been the exception. We feel a close affinity to British membership of the EU, seeing as otherwise the chance of our dad moving to Germany thirty years ago would have been slim. The composition of our household has provided us with a British-European sense of identity. This feeling is shared by many young Brits, either because they grew up in an intra-European household, spent time studying in Europe or even just if they got to know the rest of the continent well enough to feel a part of it. It comes as no surprise then that the younger generation of Brits, having grown up in a Britain that is firmly part of the EU, is broadly in favour of Remain (Kirk, 2016).
We both grew up in Germany and went to the UK to study before leaving for Belgium and Austria. The possibility to freely move around Europe, the chance to study and work in many different European countries has been an incredible opportunity for us, as it has been for many Brits. Without EU membership it would not be as straightforward and our young generation would be deprived of some great opportunities. We both made the most of studying at international universities (Kent and Aston University) where you profit from exchanging opinions with people from across Europe. Without EU membership there would certainly be less international students coming to share their knowledge, insight and experiences. It is this international makeup and flavour of our universities that has made them stand among the best in the world.
This scenario would certainly be less likely in a post-Brexit Britain. As part of the EU, we are welcome across the EU, as students, workers or even retirees. We fear that post-Brexit, after alienating our neighbours, this would change and we would be less welcome. For us, holding the passport of a country that is open to its neighbours is also a point of pride. This kind of cultural exchange is genuinely enriching - and what could the disadvantage be? The Brexit campaign tells us that Europeans coming to the UK place a heavy strain on our welfare system. However, a huge majority of those who move to the UK come for work and find it (Akkoc, 2014). They start their life in the UK and have become important pillars of our communities and form the backbone of many businesses.
When we think about our country the values we most appreciate about Great Britain are openness, looking outward and cooperation. Indeed, they are reflected in the truly great moments of British history. This is the Britain we feel a part of and that we are proud of. Isolation certainly does not fit into this picture. We want the UK to be a champion in the EU, as it has been since joining in 1973. The patriotic and emotional case for Remain is about our future and our children, rather than being stuck in the past with an unhealthy obsession about our former empire. We also need to remember that the European Union and the Union with Scotland are closely intertwined. The likelihood of another Scottish referendum, followed by its independence would surely increase. As patriotic Brits we want this scenario to be avoided. As Labour MP Andy Burnham rightly said last month, Brexit would put us “on a one-way ticket to inglorious isolation for England”.
For us the matter is clear: we want to keep on calling ourselves British and European. We are proud Brits, proud Germans and proud Europeans! The UK has accomplished a lot in the EU and we can and should be proud of this. There are many emotional arguments to make in favour of Remain and as the referendum is coming closer, it is time to emphasise this part of the discussion. The referendum is without a doubt the most influential decision for Britain’s future and leaving the EU would be a grave mistake. Let’s make it a question of hearts and minds!
Philip Easthill & Clara Easthill
Akkoc, Raziye (2014) How much do immigrants really claim in benefits? Published in: The Telegraph [online] available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/11255425/How-much-do-immigrants-really-claim-in-benefits.html
Burnham, Andy (2016) Roscoe Lecture on the Patriotic case for remaining in the EU. Published in: Andy Burnham Blogspot [online] available at: http://andyburnhammp.blogspot.co.at/2016/03/roscoe-lecture-on-patriotic-case-for.html
Kirk, Ashley (2016). EU referendum: Who in Britain wants to leave, and who wants to remain? Published in The Telegraph [online] available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/03/21/eu-referendum-who-in-britain-wants-to-leave-and-who-wants-to-rem/
Osborne, Hilary (2016) Brexit would be bad for UK, say world business leaders published in: The Guardian [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/29/brexit-bad-for-uk-world-business-leaders
Stewart, Dan (2016) Emotion, Not Facts, Will Decide Whether Britain Stays in the E.U. published in: TIME [online] available at: http://time.com/4230780/britain-europe-brexit-david-cameron/