Now that Brexit has happened and the UK is out of the European Union, I have been reflecting on the fact that I have seen the whole arc of our membership of the EU from start to finish.
I was a student when we joined what was then the European Economic Community and later became the EU. It felt wonderful to be given the freedom to work, study and live in all those European countries. I remember stepping off the train at Gare du Nord in Paris and being amazed that I was being cheerily waved into France without having to queue up for a stamp in my passport.
From then on, travelling to the European continent, whether for work or pleasure, was a big part of my life. Sure, if we hadn’t been part of the EU I could still have gone there with extra bureaucratic effort and expense, but knowing that we were part of the EU gave me and my friends a larger sense of possibility and belonging. As most of the music we played had emanated from those European countries, the sense of belonging was important to us.
As of January 1, UK citizens have lost the right to live, work and study in 27 EU countries. We are out of the Erasmus programme, which has changed the lives of so many students I’ve worked with over the years. Some were British musicians going abroad to taste the air and enjoy the respect given to classical music in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands. Some were travelling the other way, to sample the rich musical life of our prestigious UK music conservatoires. All of them seemed to love their sojourns in those other countries.
We’re told there are great opportunities for the UK now that it’s out of the EU. But I shall never be able to bring myself to believe that losing the right to work, study and live in any of 27 EU countries is anything other than a big step backwards, especially for young people.