Esteemed writers from 10 European nations, including Elena Ferrante, Javier Marias, Anne Enright and former finance minister for Greece Yanis Varoufakis, have issued pleas for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU.
A range of arguments - from invoking British literary greats and Britain’s role in the second world war to warnings that “voting to leave will not get you ‘out’” - were put to UK voters in letters published in The Guardian from representative authors of Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Greece, France, Sweden, Bulgaiai, Slovenia and The Netherlands, each urging the UK to stay.
Italian writer Ferrante, the author of the Neapolitan quartet, who is better known for shunning the limelight, said that while Europe is “ugly” it is an “obligation and an urgent necessity" that we “stay together at all costs”. She said: “What we need now is not many small countries but a continent” and called for Europe to become “actively political”, particularly at a time when “many kinds of malaise and poverty are spreading, the streets are increasingly stained with blood, the worst iterations feed the worst kind of politics”.
Ferrante argued that although she lacked sympathy for the current union, its rules and bureaucracy, the belief it would be “best to throw off the union” because “there is nothing further to be gained” was “the most wrongheaded of all”. She said: “The single pieces of Europe have long lost their autonomy and centrality. Major financial crises cannot be faced by stewing in one’s own juice. Migrations cannot be controlled with traffic lights or barbed wire. Global terrorism is not a video game you play at home in your living room. The world’s climate cannot be fixed by opening an umbrella. The happy few are no longer enough, not even for themselves, but must confront the unhappy many.”
Acclaimed Spanish novelist Javier Marías appealed to Europeans’ shared appreciation of culture, praising British literature, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Agatha Christie, whom he was brought up on. For him, it is “only natural” for Britain to form part of the EU and if the UK were to leave, “the rest of the continent would feel orphaned”.
Irish author Anne Enright, who is shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for The Green Road (Vintage), said that she didn’t think there would be a Brexit, “because people rarely vote against their clear economic interests”. She added that Brexit seemed to her to be based on "a fear of being contaminated by foreigners”, adding "and fear is never truly idealistic. It is tribal. It is the kind of atavistic thinking that makes me step back from my own nationalism, now and then”.
Enright said she liked Britain for the “shifting thing” that it is, for its “mosaic of peoples”, “from the raw Saxon faces you see in East Anglia, to the sari shops of Bradford” - not to mention that she has two British children. She concluded: “Don’t go. You will not thrive, and we want you to thrive. You are still family to us all.”
Also playing on the idea of “family” was Kapka Kassabova, from Serbia, who said he felt like “an adopted Brit” and Riad Sattouf, a French graphic novelist, whose cartoon depicted a French school boy remembering his stay with a British family. In his cartoon, on departure after just four days, the family told the boy, “no matter what happens, you will have a family here” and the boy – the author - concluded he still felt it true today.
Shunning “love letters to the British public”, by contrast, Slovenian Slavoj Žižek said he remained convinced “our only hope is to act trans-nationally” in order to face challenges imposed by global capitalism, as well as other pressing issues such as the refugee crisis and global warming, where "the nation-state is not the right instrument" for the task.
Yanis Varoufakis, Greek economist and former finance minister of Greece, who has penned a book And the Weak Suffer What They Must? also for Vintage, took a different tac, arguing that Europe would become “dangerous” to itself and others were the UK to opt out. He argued the UK would have to comply will Brussels policy anyway if it wanted to remain as part of the single market.
"The reason I want you to stay in is that voting to leave will not get you 'out'," he said. "Rather than escaping the EU, Brexit will keep you tied to a Europe that is nastier, sadder and increasingly dangerous to itself, to you, indeed to the rest of the planet. The masters of the City will never allow a new Boris Johnson government to even think of leaving the EU’s single market, despite Michael Gove’s musings. Which means that all the gadgets sold in your shops will have to abide by standards made in Brussels, your environmental protection rules will be drawn up in Brussels, and market regulation will be (yes you guessed it) determined in Brussels.”
Swedish novelist Jonas Jonasson, meanwhile, echoed the sentiment Europe’s future would be “a disaster" without Britain, arguing, “without you, the EU will crack at its very seams”.
While for Dutch poet Cees Nooteboom, who lost his father in the British aerial bombardment of the Hague in 1945, rhetoric about the possibility of a world war may be ridiculed, but "50 years of peace is too precious to gamble with."