Being British and Foreign at the same time.
I am spectacularly lucky to live in a country with a deep rooted hospitality ethic, a place where (almost) anyone is given the benefit of the doubt, and where (for the most part) people are predisposed to like other people unless they’re given a strong reason not to.
I’ve been away from Britain (though still visiting Britain for very frequent and extended periods) for so long I can’t vote there any more. So I’m not a citizen of anywhere, in a political sense. Which, in a sense, didn’t matter to me, because I was still European. Which I won’t be for too much longer.
The fact that I don’t have political rights, however, does not mean that I don’t have political obligations. Expats carry with them a heightened sense of identity that Inpats (I’ve decided that’s a word) do not. Living in Britain – nobody is “the British guy” – they are just – “the guy”. I’ve spent twenty years having to think harder about my “nationality” than anyone who has never left Britain.
Since June, I’ve been hearing from other “foreigners” though – people who now live in Britain but were born elsewhere. Friends of mine. Many of them are now planning to leave Britain not because they’ve been (so far) ordered to leave by government edict, but simply because of the stupidity and hostility they’ve had to face this year. There are, put crudely, a great many very cruel and abusive people in Britain right now. Of course, they must have long been there, but the events of June have liberated and empowered a terrifying extent of horribleness.
If I didn’t feel both immense sympathy for foreigners trapped in Britain right now, given my own situation, I’d be less than human. I’d be less than mammal. I’d have the empathetic sophistication of the common mollusc if the rise of Fascism (let’s call it what it is) in Britain didn’t fill me with a sense of immense shame. And the shame is all the greater because I’m a foreigner who has never, I repeat never, been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment.
The shocking state of post-Brexit Britain shocks and shames me because it also reveals the sheer extent of my own stupidity and cowardice. As someone who has had to think harder about “Britishness” than most people and who has had the advantage of going back and forth between Britain and other countries for decades, my own moral blindness feels peculiarly culpable.
Since hostility to foreigners is now an official state orthodoxy in Britain, and since “foreigner” is pretty much my only citizenship, it now logically follows that Britain is hostile to me.
I want my country back.
Or, failing that, anybody else’s.