I am British born and bred, from Lancastrians who came to London in the 1950s to work. We were not a wealthy family.
Growing up in the seventies and eighties I was sent on exchange visits, travelled around Europe on coaches and trains. I loved the freedom that I could walk down to Victoria coach station and buy a ticket to Greece with no more ado than buying a ticket back to Blackpool. I couldn’t afford to fly. I walked and hitchhiked. Happy times, happy memories of crowds of international students chewing the fat on hostel roofs and beaches. A continent-wide allegiance of youth, memories and discovery conveyed back to my island-bound parents and grandparents. Listening to the grandparents who had survived two world wars talking to my German exchange friend and understanding her parents and grandparents in return, I was part of a great project to build bridges of peace.
People, including especially Finnish and Polish refugees, helped me grow up with their wisdom. My school raised funds for Hungarians and then Czechs. When the Wall came down I danced with glee. Finally I would see the beauty of Prague.
I worked for organisations that I thought shared my values. I chose to live in a European part of London and happily sent my children to state schools where 33 different languages are spoken. The women who shared the school-runs with me, the mother of my daughter’s best friend, the neighbours who minded our pets, the people whose cafés we ate in, who fixed our computers, the drivers whose taxis come so promptly, they are all EU citizens who, like my parents, came to London for work.
It makes no more sense to me to send them ‘back’ than to send my parents back to Lancashire.
The idea of the closed nation state is an evil thing, generating ideas of the ‘other’ that create hostility. That hostility plays into the hands of people who just like to break things. I saw that evil in the eyes of the students at an ancient university that bullied foreign students, in the words of work colleagues using racist language and laughing at how naughty they were being. I see that mischief in the eyes of Brexiteers, who delight in the chaotic and wasteful destruction of other people’s life work. It panders to something really nasty in the human psyche.
So my brother and I were raised to see international barriers as something to be overcome, not reinforced. We knew that we had more in common with ‘the others’, in dealing with the big problems of the world, disease, environment, food, water, human rights, than things that are supposed to divide people because of arbitrary borders on maps. We were the product of an internationalist project to build peace. We are horrified that that generation-long project seems to have left others completely untouched. What’s happened?
And now I find that the funding for my brother’s work, secured with great difficulty from the USA, is being withheld until he relocates to a country within the EU regulatory framework. The Brexiteers say there will be alternative funding available, but my brother’s experience, in seeking it in time, says this is not so. His family face unwanted upheaval, his children lose hard won places at good schools and friendships. So I will be left taking care of my elderly parent on my own. British families will be broken up by Brexit too.
So yes on paper I am British, so I am not affected. Yet my delight in my European upbringing and my belief in the goodness of the world have been broken by this wanton destructive Brexit project. And no one has given me any reason why that comes anywhere near outweighing Peace in Europe.