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I want my country back! Personal thoughts on the EU Referendum

June 3, 2016

I want my country back. It’s a refrain we’ve heard a lot in the last 5-10 years. It’s generally a call to restore some sense of what being British really means, of what Britain should feel like, and the people Britain should be composed of.  What has made this refrain so commonplace is the sense that Britain has lost its sense of identity to an influx of immigrants from the EU and elsewhere.  If only we could get shot of that damned institution we’d be able to get our country back.

My father-in-law is an ex-pat who lives in France and drives around in a French car. Every once in a while he drives over to see us.  On one such occasion he drove it to a local supermarket in Strood, Kent.  At a set of traffic lights he stopped, and a man ventured towards his car, as if he was going to ask directions.  As my Father-in-law opened the window, he was greeted with “YOU FRENCH BASTARD!” at which point the lights went green. As a result he was unable to explain that he’d lived most of his adult life in Oxfordshire.  It’s an amusing anecdote, but underneath it is something far nastier: Britain has become increasingly hostile to foreign people in the last few years, and sometimes this boils over into xenophobia and racism.  A colleague of mine from Italy who has lived in the UK for a decade is very clear that this xenophobia is relatively new.  It is only in the last few years that strangers have urged him to “fuck off back to your own country” whilst he is walking down the high street.

Immigrants are the modern day bogeymen, easy to label and criticise, but much more difficult to understand. The media and some politicians have effectively dehumanised anybody who isn’t British and use the term “immigrant” to imply that anybody who comes here does so to suck the life and soul out of Britain.  UKIP can take much of the blame, but the Tory tub-thumping on immigration, and Labour’s complete inability to offer an alternative voice has made Britain a very unwelcoming place in the last few years.  I think that the effect of this is much more corrosive than the odd idiot shouting obscenities in the street.

A fact often lost in the EU debate is that EU migrants contribute very significantly to the British economy and British life.  They contribute far more in expenditure and taxation than they claim in benefits. Many of them are highly skilled and would be difficult to replace post-Brexit.  Most sensible politicians know this, which is why they usually talk of immigration numbers, points systems and the like, without actually being positive about EU migrant contributions (that would make them look human, you see, and we can’t have that).  But the corrosive effect of all of this is that these migrants, given the choice, will probably leave the UK post-Brexit, and our country will be much the poorer for it.  This is not because there will be any particular policy that makes them leave, but because the clear attitude of a Britain that votes to leave is that we don’t want to work with YOU.

Although it could be argued that we are just trying to extract ourselves from the political project that is the EU, the truth is that the EU migrants I know have been mulling over whether to stay in the UK or not for a few years now. This has been ever since UKIP gained MPs in the House of Commons, one of whom was briefly the MP in my constituency.  With Brexit now a distinct possibility, one colleague, a Dutch national, is virtually resigned to returning to the Netherlands if it occurs because Dutch citizens are not allowed to adopt dual nationality.  To continue to work in the UK post-Brexit would require a work permit of some kind, and all of the hassle and uncertainty that goes along with it.  Others have cited likely restrictions on work and travel for them and their family members as reasons to leave.

But I’m now going to avoid calling them EU migrants. Instead I’m going to call them what they really are: family and friends.  My niece and nephew are both Italian nationals, and I have French, Belgian, Finnish, German, Italian, Greek, Dutch and Polish colleagues in my institution and elsewhere whose lives will be seriously compromised, if not destroyed entirely, in the event of Britain leaving the EU.  These are Brilliant, talented people who deserve far better than to be the collateral damage in what is, and always was, the Conservative Party’s internecine pet project.

So yes, I want my country back. A country that is welcoming, tolerant and outward looking. And to get that country back I’m voting Remain.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Andy Giddings permalink
    June 3, 2016 1:09 pm

    Unfortunately this attitude towards migrants is being repeated in quite a few countries these days, several European states and also the United States. Especially strange in the US as the majority of the country has a relatively short history of being born here.

    As you say, migrants are now the scapegoats for all that’s wrong with a society. Some of our so called “leaders”, whether they be incumbent or potentials, are using migrants as the whipping post. Reminds me in many ways of the early days of the Nazi’s in Germany and I hope that right minded people step up to ensure tolerance and respect remains in place

  2. June 3, 2016 3:04 pm

    Very moving, Dr Burnley. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t have the family connections abroad that you have, but I have many friends from around Europe that are part of our team that organises an annual IT conference. Oh, and I’m an economic migrant from Northern ireland, a country that has benefitted enormously by sharing its sovereignty with the other nations that make up the UK.

    • NMac permalink
      June 16, 2016 3:28 pm

      Hear hear Brian. Totally agree.

  3. telescoper permalink
    June 15, 2016 7:59 pm

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    Read this.

  4. June 16, 2016 1:02 am

    Reblogged this on Disturbing the Universe and commented:
    Yes – I want my country back too. I want one that is open, welcoming, part of the world and part of the solution to the world’s problems. Brexit is a withdrawal from the world, an isolationist shutdown which can never work as we will remain part of the world and geographically part of Europe.

  5. June 16, 2016 3:13 pm

    Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom.

  6. NMac permalink
    June 16, 2016 3:26 pm

    As I see it this thoroughly unpleasant and ignorant xenophobia driven by reactionary politicians who appear to offer simple solutions to various problems and to find scapegoats who can’t answer back. I first noticed this thoroughly unpleasant xenophobic attitude back in roughly 2010. Whether these anti-EU bigots like it or not Europe will always be just 20 miles away and linked by a well-used tunnel. Personally, I, together with all my family and friends consider ourselves to be as much European as British and we want to remain partners with our friendly European neighbours.

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