Here in the Vendée the sun is shining, the storks are nesting and we are busy harvesting lettuce, planting sweetcorn and chillies, and preparing to pick the first chard and spinach. Our French farm, Le Boutinard, is a 300 acre former dairy farm on the edge of the low lying coastal ‘Marais’; a marshy area famous for its canals, salt, oysters and frogs. The later crops are looking fantastic, but anything that was growing roots in waterlogged February has struggled to recover. The surrounding drainage ditches are alive with frogs generating a deafening crescendo each evening. They are the favoured food of the seven pairs of storks that nest in the oaks surrounding the spinach field.
I get asked about Brexit at every break from our field work. The sentiment is generally that we should stay; that the European project is precious but fragile, and that our exit may make it crumble. Everyone here acknowledges that the EU has problems and needs to become more democratic and responsive to concerns of Europeans rather than Eurocrats, but resentment at a potential exit is not far under the surface. With Holland and the Czech Republic threatening to follow, it is not in Europe’s interest to make exit look easy; indeed, EU politicians are likely to get voters’ approval for making our post-exit life hell.
I have no appetite for “ever closer union” or an ever larger Europe; if this was a referendum on whether to join the EU, I would be for staying out, but that train has left and I will be voting to stay for three reasons:
1. The uncertainty following an exit vote will make the next 5-10 years of negotiation and adjustment hell for anyone trying to run a business; we need stability and certainty to allow us to make the good, well informed decisions and long term investment plans so vital to growth and employment.
2. Despite all its failings, the EU has brought peace and many other benefits; personally I would regret precipitating its demise.
3. Given the current mood in Europe, reform of the EU is inevitable; Eurocrats will be forced to be more accountable.
The EU needs to change, but we should push for the reforms most of us want from the inside. It will be a lot harder should we walk.