Paul's latest Journal column

12 January 2016

I never made it to Oxford or Cambridge but I do have an O-level in the history and archaeology of Roman Britain from Walbottle Comprehensive in Newcastle.  This course was only offered in three schools in the whole of the country, with Walbottle’s eccentric Mr Sockett being its creator.  It was the school’s location that had spurred on Sockett as the ditch of Hadrian’s Wall ran along the southern perimeter of the school, in fact if you lay in the bottom of the ditch you couldn’t be seen from any of the school buildings making it an ideal location on a dry warm day to go to lie down and have a smoke.

As students we could easily be bussed out to inspect the likes of Housesteads, Vindolanda and Chesters and the Vallum was clearly observable to the south of the school in a farmer’s field.  On one memorable occasion we were unexpectedly marched out of the classroom and up the old A69 into Throckley to view Milecastle 10 which had just be unearthed the previous day as the result of the laying of a new gas main.  Sockett was close to archaeological ecstasy as he explained to us that it was possible that no one had seen these ruins for several hundred years.  Alas, if memory serves me correctly, we failed to be suitably impressed. 

For me, and for many, one of the greatest achievements of the European Union (EU) has been the opening up of Europe to free movement.  We have freedom to visit, work, study and live in 27 other countries of the EU.  Almost 2 million UK passport holders reside across the EU, with almost one million living, mainly retired, in Spain.

The fast approaching EU referendum will put this wonderful benefit in jeopardy.  A victory for the leave campaign would immediately change the nature of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  How else do you give any meaning to the mantra ‘Give us back control of our borders’ unless you build a wall or a fence?  Eurosceptics should be reminded that even at the height of The Troubles there was no fence or wall, do we really want one now? 

Former Foreign Secretary William Hague was right to warn recently that if the UK were to leave the EU it would lead inextricably to Scotland voting to leave the UK, resulting in the break up of the Union.

With England outside of the EU and Scotland still a member the nature of the border will inevitably change and the remorseless logic of the eurosceptic argument leads us to the inevitable construction of a hard border.  How else would you stop those pesky eastern Europeans travelling across the EU to Scotland and then simply walking over the border at Berwick or Norham or Cornhill-on-Tweed or Carter Bar?

Or they could take a scenic walking route up say from Jedburgh crossing the border high up in the Cheviots or via Kielder Forest.  The Pennine Way would be another option.  Alternatively they could swim or wade across the River Tweed.

Maybe it hasn’t occurred to southern Tory MPs that advocating EU withdrawal could well lead to a modern day version of Hadrian’s Wall being erected here in the North East and Cumbria but surely to goodness Anne-Marie Trevelyan the Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed must have thought it through?  Why then is she advocating EU withdrawal given it could well result in a fence being erected across the northern end of her constituency along with border posts and passport checking facilities on all the roads etc.

So the questions I’d like to put to Anne-Marie Trevelyan and all those in Northumberland who advocate a UK withdrawal from the EU are as follows.

Should England and Scotland be divided by a wall or a fence?  Would it be floodlit at night?  Would there be a ditch and a Vallum incorporated?  How much will it cost?   Who should it be named after?  On the last question, I’d have thought the Prime Minister at the time of its construction would be most fitting, which could put the Tories leading classists in pole position; AD 128 Hadrian’s Wall, AD 2020 Boris’s Wall?

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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