Jayne Dowle: Are we ready for the real pains of this EU divorce?

I KNOW we all have to pull together as a nation, but can I just be selfish for a moment? We wake up this morning into a world in which Article 50 has been triggered, our exit from the European Union set in motion.

Theresa May signs the letter to invoke Article 50.

I am afraid that my first thought is not for the assured quality of imported fruit or the net total of immigration, but for the rising price of holidays. Have you seen the cost of a family break to Spain this summer? I can’t find a week in a half-decent hotel on any of the Costas for less than about £700 a person, and that’s without the flights.

Cheap travel is beginning to look like a fading souvenir. It’s not just the rocky pound/euro relationship, but the dynamics of tourism, the rise in fuel duty, local taxes and so on. Yet, the eye-watering sums my Trip Advisor searches keep presenting me with serve only to underline the growing distance between England and the rest of Europe.

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I’ve been a devoted Euro-traveller since I was 19, when I inter-railed from Barnsley to the southern tip of Italy for a month. In a few years, I would like my two children to also experience the independent thrill of waking up on the beach in Nice, and seeing the sun come up in Venice sitting on a rucksack.

Will they? In a post-Brexit world, will be Europe be affordable, possible and welcoming? Will it even be an idea in their mind? That’s my top concern, to be honest. I’ve also entertained the possibility of either of them perhaps studying or working in Europe. I regret never spending time actually living in a foreign country.

I wonder what will happen now to all those mutually-beneficial relationships between British universities and their Continental counterparts. Will multi-national firms still allow our young people to spend six months or a year working in their Brussels or Bordeaux offices?

In a world which increasingly operates on global dynamics, Britain becoming a small, inward-looking nation scares me.

With one eye on potential events in Scotland, it’s this very smallness which I worry about. I’m no political historian, but I know enough about British history to understand that Britain became “Great” because each separate country in the Union offered its best. There’s an interesting argument that in a post-industrial world we no longer have a need for the coal mines of Wales, the labour of Northern Irishmen or the inventionary zeal of the Scots.

In other words, there’s nothing to stop England eventually going it entirely alone. And no justification for holding us all together. I don’t feel comfortable with this. It’s too much of a seismic shift in our subconscious understanding of nationhood. There are few countries in the world which haven’t changed shape subtly over the centuries, but the process works best when it’s slow and evolutionary.

Frankly, I’m not sure we’re ready for the shock. In addition, it comes at a time when the very concept of what it means to be British, and to live in Britain, is undergoing serious review. The sheer number of people who have chosen to make their home here in recent years, not just from Eastern Europe, but African nations, Afghanistan and the troubled Middle East, is impacting hugely on our collective sense of self.

The Leave campaigners, who hung on promises to curb or entirely curtail this influx of immigration, missed the point. It’s too late. The sense of what “Britain” should be, or perhaps once was 70 years ago, has already changed irrevocably.

In many cases this has been positive, bringing workers and entrepreneurs and talent to enrich our country.

Regrettably, in others, it has led to poverty-stricken ghettoes in our cities and towns, hundreds of thousands of disaffected young people without hope or jobs, and a nasty climate of suspicious and division in our communities. I would like to see sensible limits on future immigration, for no other reason than that our public services such as schools and healthcare are creaking under the pressure.

However, I don’t want the doors to be locked and bolted. If we are to emerge from the Brexit process with our international reputation intact, we need to steer a middle way. And we need to keep all that is positive about membership of the EU.

Into this category comes the raft of legislation that gives us fair working conditions, maternity and paternity leave, consumer standards and laws to protect the vulnerable and abused. Leave campaigners managed to whip up a huge frenzy over the amount of “red tape”, “bureaucracy” and “human rights” Brussels subjects us to.

What they failed to point out is that much of this exists for good reasons; namely to keep us safe and secure in our lives and jobs. Our exit from the European Union will certainly impact on our travels abroad and our international reputation, but it has the potential to hit us hardest where it hurts most. At home. I hope that those in charge of steering us through the choppy waters ahead remember this above all.