Reading the open letter in the Telegraph today, from Tory backbenchers to David Cameron on opting-out of assorted European agreements, I was struck by the thought that much of this comes down to perception. In particular, my eye was drawn to a comment by one of the letter’s organisers:
“Euro crimes, Euro police and Euro prosecutors are not right for the UK because our criminal system is so different. The pragmatic thing would be to opt out of the lot. We can always opt in at a later date because it is the right thing to do for Britain.”
Let’s leave aside the logical inconsistency of fundamental difference becoming resolvable because of pragmatic need and focus on the perception here.
Laws embody social values; they mark out what is and isn’t acceptable for people to do. Therefore, we might imagine that this will vary from place to place. However, my guess would be that if I went to Spain on holiday, pretty much everything that’s illegal here in the UK will be illegal there in Spain: just because they have bull-fighting, doesn’t mean I can go around, killing any livestock I pass.
And this is where the perception comes in. My perception is that people are pretty similar, certainly across Europe: there is much more that binds than separates us. However, I appreciate that not everyone thinks like this. a good example of this came a couple of years ago, when I gave a talk about the EU to a group of engineers (long story): almost to a man, they disliked the EU and its works. Part of their argument was that ‘we’ couldn’t trust ‘them’, given the long history between ‘us’. For them, this was indicative of the proverbial leopard not changing its spots and good grounds to tread very careful and hesitantly. For me, I didn’t feel bound by my ancestors’ actions and beliefs, instead feeling that I was master of my own destiny in the matter, just as everyone else is.
Of course, the truth is that there is no ‘right’ answer to this. Our view of the world is fixed through a combination of internal reflection and external stimulus: we learn about people from seeing other people. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that we can at least appreciate and empathise with the views of others, without that having to mean we agree with them. I can see where the politicians who wrote that letter today and those engineers are coming from, even if I don’t see things in the same way. To invert a somewhat tainted phrase, perhaps with a little less condemning and a little more understanding, things might be a bit better.