I returned to Sweden on Friday; my last trip through the ‘EU Citizens’ gate at Arlanda with my British passport. From now on – if Brexit goes through – I’ll have to queue separately with all the other Foreigners. Or, rather, I would have had to, if I hadn’t taken the wise precaution a couple of years ago of applying for (dual) Swedish citizenship, which was granted to me last month. I’m here now, in fact, partly in order to collect my brand new Swedish passport from the central Police office in Stockholm; when I shall feel free – in this respect – again.
This is the curious thing about Brexit: that although it was presented in the summer of 2016 as a means of ‘liberation’ – Farage asked for June 16 to be recognised in the future as marking our ‘Independence Day’ – its effect has been to deprive us of more freedoms than it has released. In the first place, the restrictions that ‘Brussels’ placed on our liberties were very minor ones, scarcely noticeable, even by keen Brexiteers who, when asked what effects they had on them from a personal and individual point of view, usually found it difficult to cite a single example. ‘Immigration’ was the thing they usually fell back on; but generally without realising that even under EU rules European immigrants could always be ‘sent back’ if they were a burden, and that closing off EU immigration would not get rid of the ‘blacks’ and ‘Muslims’ who were the ones to whom the Brexiteers most objected. As well as this, it scarcely seemed to register with them that ‘freedom of movement’ also meant freedom for them to move where they liked on the Continent; something that was cruelly brought home to those British oldies who had retired to the Costa del Sol (for the sol), and apparently (being old) had mostly voted for Brexit in 2016, only to find that it meant that they could no longer benefit from Spain’s health system for their arthritis and Altzheimers, as they once had. Serve them bloody right, I say. But it wasn’t only the oldies that will be affected. British workers, students, manufacturers, scientists, partners, children, ordinary holidaymakers and many others will all lose this automatic freedom to live and work in the remaining EU countries, on account of their having been robbed of their European citizenship and identity by this single act of foolishness.
The most extreme and xenophobic Brexiteers probably won’t mind this at all. Some of the hypocrites among them have already made provision for Brexit on a personal level, by for example securing German citizenship for themselves or their kids (Farage), or hiving their ill-gotten millions off to Ireland (Rees-Mogg). For the less privileged, staying in Britain should be regarded as right and patriotic; for only ‘traitors’, surely, would want to live amongst foreigners? Which I imagine includes me; and the thousands of others who have done what I have done, and acquired a second nationality within the EU in order to restore our formal European identities.
I’ve been trying to ascertain how many of us there are. It certainly runs into tens of thousands, who are becoming a significant proportion of the wider British population, and a standing rebuff, surely, to the whole Brexit movement. Its significance can perhaps be measured by the number of Facebook sites devoted to British expats in Europe; where I recently posted a request for information relating to the numbers of European passport seekers in each of our foreign hidey-holes. But it’s hard to get firm figures yet. They’ve not been gathered together on a pan-European scale; and procedures in each country are confusingly varied. (Who said that the EU was ruling out national differences?) In some countries (Italy, for example) applicants are still waiting. Others don’t allow dual nationality, which is putting putative applicants off. In Ireland – a rich source among Brits for EU passports – they don’t count those who are automatically entitled to citizenship though having Irish relatives. (My children, through their Irish mother, should be able to bank on that.) Germany seems to be particularly generous. And so on. No doubt in the future some bright political scientist will be able to put all these figures together, and arrive at a total picture of the numbers of Brits who have been forced to abandon their exclusive British nationality, in order to regain the wider freedoms they used to have in the EU. Most of my respondents write of ‘thousands’ in their respective countries of exile. (I may report on their replies in more detail later.) So it must come to a lot overall.
Farage’s word ‘independence’ is meant of course to draw a parallel with colonial movements of freedom from European imperialisms in the past. It may be relevant in this connexion to remind ourselves that when British colonies were ‘granted’ independence from the 1940s through to the 70s, it was without their people’s necessarily losing their British citizenship. Ex-colonials were still regarded as ‘British’, with most of the rights that went with that. It was this that allowed the famous ‘Windrush’ generation to immigrate to Britain, as British Commonwealth citizens, and without visas or passports, in 1948. That right was eventually withdrawn in 1962, leaving ex-colonials with one freedom less.
It’s in this sense that Brexit (again, if it ever comes about: we still can’t be certain yet) should be regarded as limiting our (Brits’) freedom and ‘independence’. And there should be many thousands of us to drive that point home. Internationalism has always been a significant element in British national identity, and in our sense of freedom. Brexit is about to take that away. ‘Liberation’, my arse!