Kevin Gardner is one of the many pro-EU folk I’ve met through my social media activity – and I really appreciate his enthusiasm to express his thoughts about Europe through this interview – one of the keenest interviewees I’ve had to date. Active with Manchester for Europe, this is the perfect time to share his interview – with the pro-EU march and rally planned in Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference this coming weekend – 1st October.
Kevin was born in 1985 in Bolton, in the north west of England, growing up on a council estate in a town that would become a Brexit heartland – Leigh. He studied Law, Business and Economics at college in Manchester, going on to study Politics and Economics at the University of Lancaster. After this, he worked for several multinational British and European firms in the construction sector; planning and helping to deliver major infrastructure projects across the UK. He is currently a consultant with a project services provider, to both the public and private sector.
His spare time is spent bringing up his one year old son and his rescue dog, as well as (in his own words) appeasing his wife who ‘graciously allowed’ him to join the Manchester for Europe Committee – a group of pro-EU Greater Manchester residents with the goal of keeping the UK in the EU.
Here is Kevin’s interview:
- Please tell me where you are from and where you currently live and work.
I currently live in Manchester, and have lived in the area all of my life but for three years at university in Lancaster. I have worked in and around Manchester since leaving uni, but now work in Wales.
- Which European languages can you speak?
Parlo un po di italiano!
- Would you describe yourself as European? If so, is this part of your identity, or just a fact of geography?
I always considered myself British and European, in that order. Since the run up to the referendum, seeing the nastiness of many Brits and finding out more and more about the softer aspects of the EU, I started to see myself as European first and British second. In the aftermath of the referendum, in particular seeing the treatment by some Brits of our immigrant friends, I now identify as European with British heritage.
- When you think of the European Union, what is the first thing you think of?
It’s more a feeling than a thought. I love so many cultures coming together for work and play.
- Do you feel that living and working in Europe has made a difference to your professional career? How?
Definitely! I spent several years working for a European conglomerate, which invested in me and enabled me to work on one of the biggest renewables infrastructure projects in Europe. I also met my wife while working there!
- Do you feel as though the European Union is beneficial to the arts and creative industries? Can you support your answer with examples?
This isn’t an area I’m very familiar with, but general EU principles, in particular free movement, helps culture to travel. With a borderless travel area, people are free to explore and bring ideas from across a continent. I also believe that mutual recognition of qualifications helps employment in the areas above, a single market in services such as Netflix benefits consumers of programmes and widens the market for producers.
- Does Europe inspire you professionally or personally? If so, how?
Both! I have always loved to experience different cultures, and travelled all over Europe. I have studied in Italy, and do hope to work there at some point, and retire there if I make it that far!
- Were you interested in the Referendum on EU membership in the UK? What do you think of the result?
Very much so. As an economics graduate, I’ve spent quite a lot of time studying the technical aspects of the EU so I know the point of pooled sovereignty, and know the damage that withdrawing from the single market and customs union would do to the UK.
I spent a lot of time debating with people and campaigning for a remain vote, and through this I learned much more about the softer aspects of the EU, and my respect for the economic sense of the EU grew into love for its ideals.
I could not have been more devastated at the result, and I will never stop trying to overturn it.
- Do you think the EU helps maintain peace?
While you cannot prove the counterfactual, the record of European conflict certainly suggests that the EU has been a force for good in this area.
- Do you feel as though you have a lot in common with people from European countries other than your own? Can you give examples?
Sure do! I have an appreciation for anyone who makes an effort. I have utmost respect for EU (and ROTW) immigrants, who have the guts and drive to come to a new country and make a contribution. I have worked with a lot of these people and feel they have the same drive and ethics as I do.
I also love the appreciation that I am shown when I go to non-touristy places in Italy to test my Italian language skills – the locals always try to help me improve, just as I do for others when they are trying to improve their English skills.
- Do you think it is good for the country where you live to be part of the European Union?
Of course! The economic arguments are indisputable, but for me, the societal benefits have made many areas of the UK wonderfully diverse. For kids growing up and being educated with friends from different countries, xenophobia can be killed off in a couple of generations.
- How would you feel about ‘ever closer union’ or a ‘United States of Europe’?
I quite like the idea of it. To be able to travel/work/study seamlessly is a wonderful ideal.
- Do you have a favourite place in Europe? If so, where is it and why do you love it?
Cinque Terra, Italy. Five small towns built into the cliffs of north west Italy, linked by cliff top walkways and a rail line. The finest mixed fried fish to eat, rocks to dive from into the crystal clear waters. This is my heaven!
- Which European national stereotypes are true, in your experience?
The Dutch are really tall, and generally impressive! The Italians do like their Speedos! Italian food is my reason to live. Eastern Europeans really do have a strong work ethic. Everyone I’ve come across speaks better English than most of us Brits speak any foreign language!
- Where is the best place in Europe to drink coffee? What would you order?
A bit of theme is developing here – but while I tend to spend most of my holidays on local wine and cold Birra Moretti, I always have a last treat of a cappuccino at lunch on my return trip to Pisa airport.
- What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Europe today?
There seems to be a very dangerous rise in nationalist feeling in some countries. While I can’t substantiate this in countries other than my own – other than what I see on the news and read in the press – this is too real in the UK right now.
This has split families in the UK, which I have personal experience of, and is splitting the country in two. I don’t know if the UK can reverse this tide, and maybe it is destined to die in time as the population becomes more educated and tolerant, but I pray that the experience of the UK in the past two years is a wake up call to the EU to combat their similar problems before it does fundamental damage.
- Name a place in Europe you have not visited, but would like to. Why?
I would very much like to visit Malta. From what I have seen, it looks a wonderful mix of British and southern European culture and history – particularly with its key role in the allied campaign in WW2, looks architecturally and geographically beautiful and should have fantastic weather.
- What do you think is the most significant moment in European history? Why?
Wow – that’s some question! My knowledge of pre-20th century history is not what it should be, but I would have to say the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. With hindsight, the conditions imposed on Germany ensured that the peace between the wars was always going to be temporary, with the national humiliation and economic degradation enforced on Germany leading to the rise of fascism. But hindsight is a wonderful thing…
- Do you think the election of Donald Trump or the election of Emmanuel Macron is more significant for Europe? Why?
Macron has the potential to transform the EU through transforming France. Trump is potentially an aid to Macron in that now the US is showing itself to be unreliable and outright dangerous, Macron has the opportunity to sell change to the French public (and unions) as we are now living in a ‘disruptive’ time, where France and the EU has to change to look after itself.
On a side note, I feel Brexit, if it happens, could also be an aid to France. As the UK becomes less attractive to international business, the EU becomes relatively more so. This could very well provide a buffer for Macron to make labour market reforms without causing the short term pain that some people may suffer for the long term gain of a more competitive economy.
- Are you hopeful for the future of Europe?
I am cautiously optimistic, very hopeful, and a more than a little jealous!
Europe, and the EU, is continuing to strive for the ideals that I hold dear. Through no choice of my own, I’m having my part in the future of Europe taken away.
The rise of the far right is a worry, but no countries have followed as dominos after Britain’s catastrophe. The migration difficulties, while horrific for the poor people having to flee their own lands, should help Europe in the long run by combating the problems of an aging population – providing the benefits are fairly spread, unlike what happened in the UK.
There seems to be a clash between western European views on democracy and the rule of law, and the approach of some former eastern bloc countries, and tensions between north and south around the single currency and austerity. These kinds of issues are going to occur in a club of 28 countries. I do believe however, that shared interests, history and the common good, will allow such issues to be overcome.
I wish this not only for the people of Europe and the EU, but for my one year old son, who I will make sure has the tools to be a part of European society, with the UK in or out of the EU.
For more on Manchester for Europe, including details of the rally and street party on 1st October:
Facebook: Manchester for Europe
*Note, names in this interview have been changed in the face of threatening behaviour from those on the opposing side of this debate.