While millions of Brexiters today may be happy, millions of other Britons are losing their EU citizenship, not to mention the impact on the 3 million citizens of other EU countries which currently live in the UK. As the clock strikes 11 tonight my EU citizenship shall be taken away from me against my will. For me and millions of other pro-Europeans this is not a moment of happiness, it is a moment of sadness, even anger. It represents the loss of a part of my political identity.
What ‘Brexit Day’ truly represents is that Britain is turning its back on its responsibilities to be a leader of Europe alongside countries like France, Germany and Italy amongst others. The Brexiters point out of course that we are not leaving the continent of Europe, the British landmass is not about to magically move to another part of the globe. However, for me as a European my identity is not just defined by the fact that I happen to live on a bit of land which is called Europe, but that my country is a part of the political community of Europeans, that of the European Union. Europe is a part of my political identity and the EU is my political family.
I am proud to be a Lancastrian, a Northerner, an Englishman, I am proud to be British and proud to be a European too. However, there is no escaping the fact that by the end of today a piece of my identity shall no longer be acknowledged by the British government. My rights as a European as a result will become more limited.
Brexit was won on the back of right-wing populism and nationalism and insecurity about the future. Not to mention the Leave campaign’s misleading claims about money that could be given to the National Health Service and the potential of immigrants to enter this country from Turkey (a majority Muslim country), which has no realistic short-term prospects of becoming a member of the EU. Sadly, the Leave campaign capitalised on fears about NHS funding as well as standard dog whistle politics towards immigrants. The truth that EU migration has been a great benefit to this country has been largely overlooked by Brexiters.
As for ‘taking back control’ this is a pipe dream and a delusional fantasy. In the age of globalisation, it is extremely difficult for any nation to truly have ‘sovereignty’. Ironically, our membership of the EU allowed us to amplify our sovereignty by pooling it with 27 other nation states striving towards collective common goals on the international stage. This enabled us to have effective international action on everything from combating climate change, to properly taxing big corporations, to securing workers’ rights. Britain’s political power in the world will be reduced because of Brexit and with it its international sovereignty will also be reduced.
Now Britain faces what is likely to be the farce of the coming trade negotiations with the EU and America. The British government will have to decide whether to closely align with the EU or move away from them towards US trade standards. Britain risks becoming a pawn beneath the umbrella of American hegemony. Corporate America is renowned for being a ruthless operator when it comes to demanding certain trade standards and when we see the potential opportunities for American corporations in everything from British food markets to health services, there are plenty of grounds for concern. Brexit will open up a far bigger challenge to Britain’s sovereignty than the EU could ever have posed.
After 1945, Britain had an obligation to work with the other nations of Europe in a political community to ensure that liberty, democracy and human rights would continue to thrive on the continent. Britain after all did more than any other Western European country to defeat fascism in the Second World War. At a time when nationalism and populism are rising in many countries in Europe again, it is vital that Britain would have remained committed to that political community as dark clouds were beginning to gather. But we have chosen to turn our backs on our European responsibilities. We have chosen to turn our backs on our nearest allies. We have ultimately chosen to turn our backs on an economic superpower with an economy almost as big as America’s and still far bigger than the economy of China.
From the times of the Roman Empire; to the Viking raids and the Norman Conquests; to the emergence of kingdoms and global empires; to the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation and the wars of religion; to the rise of Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin and the forces of nationalism, fascism and communism which would tear the continent apart; all that united Europeans was killing and death. Prior to 1945, generations of Europeans grew up knowing that they would inevitably be sent to kill other Europeans in distant parts of the continent. From the 1950s, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community, then the European Community and now the European Union, Europeans became united by more than just war and mutual hatred as they had been for time immemorial.
Now to be a European means freedom, democracy, social justice and equal rights for all. But above all the shared cooperation and free trade, there was one essential idea, peace. The EU first and foremost is the world’s most successful peace project. Where once Britons and Frenchmen were sent to kill one another; where once Germans were sent to kill Poles; where once Italians and Austrians killed each other; and where once Spaniards would kill Dutchmen; today they sit together as brothers, as Europeans. The former French President, François Mitterrand once famously stated that “nationalism is war”. If nationalism is war, then a united Europe is peace. Surely the idea of a united common community of Europe is worth fighting for.
Tonight, I will lose my EU citizenship rights. I will see my country betray its national destiny and its obligation to be a leader of a free, democratic and peaceful European political community. I hope my European brothers and sisters will continue to keep the dream of a free and united Europe alive. While Brexiters crow and cheer tonight, I remain hopeful that one day the UK will rejoin the EU and fulfil its obligation to be a leader of the European community of nations.