Just as voters have disowned the European Union, I too will be consciously uncoupling from the United Kingdom, my former home, my motherland, my great disappointment.
I left my mother country 15 years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did. Not because I hated Britain, which had otherwise been very good to me, but because there were more interesting paths, a bigger world, to explore: I moved to Bangkok to work on a magazine and a few years later Dubai. Next up: Ireland, where I’ve thrown down roots of sorts (for me, home really is where the heart is) for nearly a decade. How wonderful – and sometimes daunting but always enriching – to live among so many different cultures and colours. How rich our knowledge becomes from sharing stories and experiences, how wide-open our levels of tolerance and inclusivity. My living abroad didn’t make me any less of an Englishwoman, but it sure made me a less parochial one. I don’t do patriotism. How can one be ‘proud’ to be British/Irish/whatever? You were just born that way – pride is to be earned not birthrighted. Wherever I lay my hat is my home, but I’m none the less ‘British’ for it.
Work visas were required to live in Thailand and the UAE, so I know from experience what it’s like to be a non-national. The reams of paperwork, the rip-off fees, the embassies, the crossing of borders, the stamping of passports. But my devastation at Britain leaving the EU is not just a personal one – that we expats in Europe may now have to apply for residency visas/employment sponsors or have their healthcare/pension/property rights suddenly revoked. No, what crushes me the most is that my fellow countrymen – battered by the recession and looking for someone, something, to blame – were so easily exploited and brainwashed by the self-ambition of politicians and a vicious, self-serving media. Common sense and the bigger picture didn’t even factor.
When the world economy crashed, every country felt it, some more than others. Comparatively, Britain was one of the luckier ones. And yet yesterday, a critical mass – and let’s be honest here: an older critical mass – took it upon themselves to tip the apple cart in the most selfish way; people that won’t even live long enough to see Britain restored to its ‘former glory.’ Cast off those rose-tinted glasses: Britain never was Great (it’s just a country like any other), and it never will be. An Inclusive, Cosmopolitan Britain on the other hand? Where do I sign? Oh, wait, I can’t: Even though I have a British passport I lost my right to vote for not being registered there during the last 15 years, an arbitrary rule if ever there was one. Could fellow expats like me, barred from having a say for daring to live in other territories, have swung the vote towards a Stay victory? We will never know. Our opinion is null and void.
The night before this most heinous verdict I started reading Miranda Sawyer’s new book Out of Time and had a lightbulb moment as to why the like of my parents – yes, my parents; double betrayal – chose to Leave and why the younger generations chose to Stay. In an excerpt: ‘I’ve always believed in something bigger. In the late 80s, I believed in rave and the power of the collective. Even now I like crowds, especially when music is playing; I love gigs, clubbing, festivals, marches, football matches, firework displays. I’m not mad about the hassle of getting to those places, but once I’m there, I’m fully in.
“It’s good to lose yourself in that. I find it comforting to feel as others do, to share a moment; to know that I’m unique but not that special. I like to know that what I’m going through, while personal to me, is also part of a pattern.”
That arms-wide sense of community and belonging that the 1990s did so well – and which we ironically associate with older, simpler, friendlier times – is completely off-radar for the likes of my parents. Their generation has a ‘us against the world’ undercurrent, oblivious to the fact that they are the world, they’re in the very thick of it and hey, isn’t that the best place to be, right at the heart with everyone else, united, and not entirely removed from it?
The Brexpat’s present and future are now uncertain. According to the United Nations, there are around 1.3 million of us living in Europe, 249,000 of which are in the Irish Republic. While it will take years to definitively extrapolate Britain from the European Union, what happens in the interim? What status do I have, a Briton in Ireland, now? My passport says I’m British, but it’s also splashed with the words ‘European Union.’ I have an Irish driving license, but I am not Irish. I have both PPS and National Insurance numbers. I’m dazed and confused looking at Form 8 – Irish Nationality & Citizenship Act 1956 because I don’t know now what I am. I’m a British citizen without a vote in the country that birthed me and yet I don’t have full voting rights in my chosen home because I’m not Irish. I am entirely mute, a legal alien assessing the long-term damage that we can’t quantify beyond voting stats.
While our future is nebulous, the new crop of British now sees only borders and red tape. Their freedom of movement – to live, to work and study in 27 other European countries – is now scuppered. We know not what terms and conditions will be imposed, but we will no longer enjoy the same access as we did. The bureaucracy that Leave voters so desperately wanted to escape will be merely delegated elsewhere: to the expensive, time-sucking hoops that ambitious folks will now have to jump through in order to live in more enlightened countries. But sure, the Leave voters were never bothered about working on the Continent, so what do they care?
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” goes the well-thumbed LP Hartley quote. On June 24, 2016, I don’t recognise the Britain I grew up in any more than the Leave voters do; the difference is that my past is not blinded by rose-tinted NHS specs.
So to you, my dearest Ireland. I came here; I took your jobs, and I took your men. And nearly ten years on you remain a warm, fascinating and frustrating adopted parent. We don’t always see eye to eye (we’ll save my repeal speech for another day…), but as a nation that well understands emigration and immigration, you have been a more than hospitable host to me. This is what makes us EU citizens and I stand beside you – if you’ll have me, that is. I pay my taxes, am toilet trained, I’m madly in love with one of your own, and ‘balubas’, ‘banjaxed’, ‘gombeen’ and ‘acting the maggot’ are among my favourite colloquialisms ever.
And to you, my dearest Britain, you have become the country I hoped you wouldn’t, but I wish you well. But, me, I have greener, brighter, more unified pastures here. This is my home now more than ever. Slán.