In his New Year message, Oxford Region Branch chair, Graham Jones, says “the hard work starts now” and outlines simple actions we can all take to keep us close to Europe.

A very happy New Year to you: peace, joy, and, of course, a respite from what a colleague calls the pestilence.

You may also be expecting a respite from campaigning to defend and enhance the United Kingdom’s standing and role in Europe. If so,

I’m sorry to disappoint. On the contrary, the hard work starts now.

The last twelve months have been demanding, but not particularly onerous.  Maybe you clicked the box on the slew of e-mails asking you to write to your MP.  Perhaps you donated another £10 or hit the Retweet button a couple of times when logged on to Twitter.

Now that our country has left the Single Market and the Customs Union, things are harder. You can still click on a button asking you to sign up to a ‘Rejoin Register’ that aims to muster an army of volunteers now for a referendum on rejoining the EU in the future. But I’m sorry to say this – you may find yourself waiting a very long time.

It’s not that Brexit has gone away. On the contrary, despite Johnson’s assertions, Brexit is far from Done.

I suggest that the perilous position the UK finds itself in demands more. What has changed is that to make a difference now requires from each of us a different, individualised, and in many cases significantly demanding investment.

We start 2021 alone in a dangerous world, sandwiched between two of the world’s three superpowers, the USA and the EU; diminished by the government’s cavalier attitude to international law; and preparing for G7 and COP26 presidency with a Prime Minister incapable of mastering detail and remembered abroad as the worst Foreign Secretary in living memory.

More than that, we are saddled with a government led by incompetents and rotten to the core: shamed by continual revelations of cronyism; donations from foreign sources linked to the Russian state; cosying up to neo-fascists, whether in the Council of Europe or the ruling party in India, which our Prime Minister is soon to visit.

Holding this government to account over Brexit requires forensic skills and a knowledge of specific sectors and themes. If in your professional, working life, you are able to critique the effects of Brexit on your corner of the economy, please contact our communications team (euromoveoxon@gmail.com) as we would like to hear from you.

Protecting EU citizens in the UK from a second Windrush-like scandal come the summer also requires a local knowledge.  If you can supply the locations of places where leaflets can be left, like ‘European’ shops and community noticeboards, please contact our lead on the issue, Justin Meadows, on the same address.

In your daily life, make a habit of including Continental produce in your shopping bag. No need to stop ‘buying British’, but no need to stop enjoying Gouda cheese, French wine, or Parma ham either.

Remember that our nearest neighbours are taking an economic hit from Brexit, too. Do this in the supermarket by all means. However, if you haven’t tried your local ‘Polish shop’, give it a go. The range of sausage is amazing. Smoked mackerel’s great, too.

Economic harm from Brexit is obvious. Arguably, though, the biggest lasting damage to the UK is the hit to our reputation. No task is more urgent than to rebuild trust with our neighbours. Each of us can contribute on different levels:

  • In your working life, support international links through your professional body or trade union, or by proposing/promoting exchanges or joint activity.
  • In your community life, join your town, city, or village’s twinning association. It’s fun, and once Covid’s out of the way there’ll be plenty to do, planning for the next round of trips and exchanges.
  • If you’re involved in politics, ask your local party branch to affiliate to the party’s European group.  Ask if it has campaigned for UK voices to be admitted to the European Parliament’s Conference on the Future of Europe and join where possible your pan-European party’s ‘individual members’ group or list.
  • If you’re not involved in politics, consider doing so – it’s still the most effective way to make a difference.
  • In your family life, choose or recommend a school which teaches at least one other European language. It will very probably be rated Ofsted Good or Outstanding. If another language isn’t taught, ask why.
  • Ask your children or grandchildren’s schools to arrange an exchange or create a link with a school on the Continent or in Ireland. At East Oxford Primary School, we planned a virtual Christmas Card video for a school in Oxford’s Dutch twin city.

And keep writing to newspapers!

Graham Jones

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