I started to get worried some months ago, over the Boaty McBoatface incident. This was bizarre in the extreme: the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has owned a series of ships which are used to support ocean research and the British Antarctic Survey. In March, the NERC invited the public to suggest names for a new ship, costing around £200 million, which is being built.
A former local radio presenter suggested – I hope either when drunk or just in jest – “Boaty McBoatface”. I thought that people would treat it as a joke, and continue to come up with serious suggestions, but amazingly it proved hugely popular. The upshot was that it was overwhelmingly the public’s choice.
Thankfully the poll was not binding, and a very wise solution was reached: the ship is to be named RRS Sir David Attenborough, and a submersible vessel to be used on board would be called by the absurd name of Boaty, which is in any case more appropriate, as submarines are always referred to as boats.
The day before yesterday, the UK was overcome by Boaty McBoatface decision-making, and I would like to apologise personally to everyone around the rest of the EU, and the whole world, for the moment of collective idiocy which has resulted in the referendum result, for the UK to leave the EU.
I apologise because I can only think that for many, probably most, of the 17.4 million people here who voted to leave the EU, that it was a bit like Boaty McBoatface – it seemed like a good idea, won’t this teach ‘those foreigners’ that we’re still Great Britain, and let’s give our Prime Minister a bloody nose.
There are, I am also sure, some who voted to leave who really want us to, and who still want us to after all the economic and political chaos of the day after (Friday 24 June). Whilst I respect your opinion, and am happy that you might hold it entirely rationally, I beg to differ. I differ not just on political and economic grounds, but most profoundly as a European. And proud of it.
I believe that there are strong social, cultural, and other ties between the population of the UK and the rest of Europe. It is a quirk of geology that we are on an island, and of course in geological time it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Like most of the people of the UK, I come from mixed stock. I was actually born overseas, in what is now the Commonwealth but was then a colony. On my mother’s side, much of my ancestry is Italian – migrants who came to Britain with the ice trade.
The paintings which I love, and write about here, come primarily from the UK and the rest of Europe. Even though there was no European Union, painters have moved fairly freely throughout Europe. Had Turner not travelled through Europe, his works would have been much the poorer. Had Monet and Pissarro not sheltered in London during the Franco-Prussian War, we may never have had Impressionism. Had the art academies of the European continent not been open to many British and American painters, then we would all have been the poorer.
Macs and technology also transcend international boundaries, but the EU has been a strong force in tackling many of the problems which users have faced. In the UK we have all benefited from the EU’s firm stand on warranties, and on the protection of privacy. Among the member states of the EU, the UK has been in the vanguard in the development and deployment of technology, and many UK firms have been very successful across the EU market as a result. We work with our colleagues in the rest of Europe, not outside.
The English language (I know, it has taken a bit of a back seat here in recent months) is spoken and written by many more people outside the UK than within. Non-British Englishes are rich, vibrant, and bring much to enhance the English which we speak and write here in the UK. We all benefit from thriving worldwide English literature, and long may it remain so. In Europe, we also enjoy rich diversity in languages which we should also celebrate and enjoy.
I am sorry that the result of our referendum has not just sent shockwaves through the UK’s economy, but has had effects across the world. Again, I think that this is completely unintentional – although perfectly predictable – and I hope that none of this will compromise the many friendships which I and other British people have with those in the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world.
This blog will continue to be broad, eclectic, and never in the least bit xenophobic.