I’ve been asked to contribute briefly to a volume – or it may be a website – of British European residents’ feelings about Brexit. Here’s my penn’orth.
No-one has, or should feel, a single national identity. I was born British, am fond of certain British things (cricket, steak and kidney puddings, our humour), and proud of others (our part in the early months of the last European War, the NHS), but have never been a ‘patriot’ in that limited sense. This is why Theresa May’s dismissive ‘if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’ at a recent Tory conference, appalled and alienated me. The Brexit vote had the same effect. It may not have been a purely xenophobic event, but rather – as I argued in my blog at the time (https://bernardjporter.com/…/…/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/, and other posts) – more of a people’s misdirected reaction against decades of oppression (if that’s not too strong a word) by other forces than ‘Brussels’. I’m even more depressed by the intolerance and sheer racism that the result of the referendum provoked, mainly on the Brexit side, and the sheer irrationality of the argument against a second democratic vote. Lastly, I’ve been made to feel humiliated by the reactions – usually sympathetic – of the friends I’ve made in Sweden, where for the last 22 years I’ve spent half my time with my Swedish partner. I used to try to defend my country abroad; I no longer can. (Cricket they can’t understand; steak-and-kidney pudding sounds revolting to them; only ‘Engelsk humor’ has any purchase. Thank God for Eddie Izzard.)
I love Sweden just a little bit less than England, and admire her more. But I’m unwilling to move there permanently – the cricket, and all the rest – and Kajsa would be unhappy living in Britain all the time, for what I think are better reasons. So we live in both countries, relying on free movement between them; sharing the rights and medical services that the EU gives us access to; and – more than this – the sense of community that being in a single association gives us. I’ve also worked in Sweden, doing occasional lecturing, on the salary for which (and on our shared sommarhus) I pay Swedish taxes. My children and grandchildren share all the delights of Sweden with me. I may not be materially affected by Brexit – I applied for (dual) Swedish citizenship straight after Brexit, which I hope will come through soon (Migrationsverket has a backlog) – and which should have the added advantage of restoring the European citizenship that the Brexiteers have stolen from me. But – perhaps oddly, in view of my admitted lack of ‘patriotism’ – I’m more concerned about the damage that they have done to Britain’s reputation in the world. For the first time I feel ashamed of being British.
I also have tremendous feelings of sympathy for other Europeans who will no longer be able to live and work in Britain, as they used to. I understand that the Brexpats movement is working for them too. And of course I’m worried for the British economy; though I have to say that’s the least of my concerns.