EUROPE: The price of democracy
Around two years ago I was lucky enough to do a 2,500-mile cycle tour of eight European countries, including Britain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and others.
During that time, I experienced some of the best landscapes, hospitality and friendships that the world could offer. I was, am and felt English, British and certainly European. These landscapes are my home, these people my family.
From this continent of former conflict there were two images I found profoundly affecting.
The first was the memorial to the Alsatian people who died for their country in the First World War. They died for Germany, in a region which later became French, the country they fought against. I wondered just who they died for and why, and to which country they really belonged to.
The second was the European Parliament in Strasbourg, just up the road from that memorial, a vast building. Some would argue this to be a waste of money. I would say that this is the price of democracy.
The millions who have died in conflict across our continent is the cruel cost of misplaced nationalism. If there were a choice between the two, there would be only one I would ever take.
I feel we need to be careful about letting over-zealous nationalism affect our decision in the referendum as happiness cannot be gained through division, only through co-operation.
Membership of the EU is not forcing us to be less English, less British, to love our landscapes and culture any less. To build walls and live in isolation does not make us any more patriotic or aware of our true identities.
My travels across this continent have taught me a sense of place. I am at home here. I know I am English, and feel it in everything I do. But I am also British, I am also European. The thrill of being able to experience and be united with the whole of this amazing continent at peace has still not left me.
I believe that joint travel, trade, governance and responsibility bring our communities together. We should be building bridges not barriers. We are truly the same people – we share the same goals of prosperity, health, awareness and protection.
I hope that on June 23 we vote for co-operation and unity with our joint union of nations.