‘Europe is wonderfully diverse – and sharing a currency doesn’t change that’

THERE can be few things about this time of year more excruciatingly boring than hearing people drone on about their holidays – except perhaps having to look at their holiday snaps.

So I don’t plan to dwell on my own, but I will make brief mention of them.

I’ve just made the first foreign trip in seven years. It was a weekend in St Malo, in Brittany, immediately followed by one of my regular city breaks to Belfast.

I stayed within the historic town walls of St Malo, and it was exactly how I always picture rural France, with cobbled streets, small squares with live accordion music, a huge, ancient, Gloomy but Serene cathedral, fine food, fine wine and fine looking women.

Some Britons accuse the French of being rude but everyone seemed friendly, polite and indulgent of my clumsy attempts to speak their language. Maybe the Bretons are different. Or maybe it’s stupid to generalize about an entire nation.

It was noticeable that there were no signs of Britain’s obesity epidemic. Even the most fervent Brexiteers have to concede that France beats us in its cuisine, the elegance of its language and the attractiveness of its people.

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The city break to Belfast allowed me to catch up with family, old places and the couple of friends who haven’t emigrated long since, as I did 32 years ago.

I had a few euro banknotes left over from France, and initially tucked them within the pages of my passport, ready for my next trip to the eurozone. But I ended up spending them all at home.

Belfast may be part of the UK, as every Ulster Unionist will remind you, but the shops around the border areas and the big department stores in Belfast were always keen to attract customers from south of the border by accepting the Republic of Ireland’s punt.

Now that the Republic is in the eurozone, many northern shops are just as happy to accept it. I handed over a 10 euro note and got my change back in sterling. Equally, many shops just over the southern side of the border are happy to accept sterling.

As long as it’s hard currency, shops don’t mind. And it hardly seemed worth changing my euros back into British money, and having to pay commission at a Bureau de change, when I could just spend them instead.

I make no secret of the fact that I fear Brexit will turn out to be a terrible mistake. It seems crazy to turn our back on a huge potential market on our doorstep.

Our likely next prime minister, the Margaret Thatcher impersonator Liz Truss, used to feel the same way, and backed remain in the 2016 EU referendum – until she decided it would be better for her career prospects to about-turn, and became a hard Brexiteer .

A lot of anti-EU sentiment is bound up in nasty hostility to foreigners, not ‘taking back control’ or anything else.

And I don’t see how being ruled by ‘faceless unelected bureaucrats from Brussels’ is any worse than being ruled by faceless unelected bureaucrats from Whitehall.

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However I’ve always been agnostic about the euro. I know about as much about Economics as I know of Swahili, so I haven’t a clue whether or not it would be a good idea, though I don’t know of any harm, economic or otherwise, that it has inflicted on countries who have adopted it.

But it would be far more convenient, not just for tourists with euros left over but for businesses and anyone else who has to travel. Bureaux de change might not like it, although they’d still be able to trade in US or Australian dollars.

You don’t have to be in the EU to adopt the euro, but it’s unlikely to happen here any time soon. Politicians would be far too frightened of the hysterical reactions from the Europe-haters if they ever suggested such a thing. We’d see the ‘Traitors’ and ‘Enemies of the people’ Headlines all over again.

The chances are, however, that an independent Scotland would ultimately adopt the euro, and I’m sure the shops in Carlisle would soon accept them.

They say the strength of Europe is its diversity, and they’re right. Belfast is very different from Barcelona, ​​Carlisle is very different from Copenhagen, Workington is very different from Warsaw – and you don’t get that level of diversity and multiculturalism, within what in global terms is quite a small space, anywhere else in the world .

Travel from Portugal to Poland and you’ll witness an infinite variety of landscapes, architecture, food, drink, traditions, languages ​​and culture in general.

Travel a similar distance on a road trip across the USA and there will be an Endless monotony of ‘gas stations’, McDonald’s and Burger King and nondescript motels.

There’ll always be an England, and a Scotland, a France, an Italy and a Denmark. Sharing the same currency would make travel, shopping and business far easier, and it would do nothing to undermine the distinctiveness of our European countries.

If it did I would be 100 per cent against it.

If there is an economic reason why the euro is a bad idea I’m happy to listen. But the only real problem I had with euro coins, when they first appeared, was that I couldn’t get the silver paper off them.

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