In 1945 The Second World War ended. Europe had been once more torn apart and destroyed by nationalist fighting. Only just over 70 years ago. It is easy to forget how short a time that is in historical terms.
From that disaster came a firm conviction to avoid future conflicts by uniting Europe in a number of common causes. The process has been slow, difficult and not always successful to date. There have been great advances, huge mistakes, and no end of misunderstandings.
But the idea is brilliant. A united Europe as a guarantor of civil rights, social services, tolerance and equality. A space which has no room for the death penalty, or dictatorships of any colour, or prosecution based on race, creed or sexual condition. A space for peace and freedom.
Now the concept has been put into doubt by the British and their unexpected Brexit vote. On what grounds? According to the right wing tabloid press the problem is one of immigration and of loss of sovereignty. Brussels has apparently gone mad and is dragging the British people down with them.
Criticism is fair and to be encouraged, mistakes should be pinpointed and corrected. There is discontent not only in the UK, but also in Poland, France, Holland and other nations. But to undo what has taken so much to create is short-sighted and dangerous. What if Britain or any other nation state decides to go it alone on immigration? Or on common defence? How will that affect international relations and trade? What if an ‘independent’ government wanted to bring back the rope?
The answer is not to become a maverick state, to cut hard earnt ties, to burn one’s boats. That is an island mentality, and as the poet said, no man is an island.
Europe will continue to grow as a concept. Differences will be dealt with, crises overcome. There is no turning back, despite the Farages and Le Penns. Britain belongs to Europe and should form part of its growth. But if it finally decides not to form part of its own continent, to remain distant and wrapped in its faded Union Jack, nothing will change. Europe is a reality, a necessity, an achievement.