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But will we want to stay?

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On the day of the EU referendum, a British Remain campaigner told me: ‘I’m very glad you’re here.’ I know she meant well, but her words felt exclusionary as well as inclusive – I may be welcome, but I’m still foreign.

In recent years there have been increasing restrictions on who can move or settle here from outside the EU – from eliminating the post-study work visa to requiring an annual income of at least £35,000. And the person who oversaw these restrictions as home secretary is now our prime minister.

During the referendum campaign, none of the Remain leaders spoke out in favour of immigration. After the result, even some Labour MPs warned that the party must ‘recognise concerns about immigration’, rather than try to change the way Britons view it. Police saw an increase in reported hate crimes. In the London borough where I live, which overwhelmingly voted Remain, graffiti appeared in a park saying ‘Go Home, Fuck EU.’ (It was painted over after a couple of days.)

A dual Canadian-Polish national, I have lived in the UK for six years, and many of the people I’m close to here are (non-British) Europeans. I’ve had several discussions with other EU nationals about whether or not we may leave, even if we can legally stay long-term, and I recently sent out a survey which around 70 people responded too. Many of us feel less welcome here, and some of us feel less safe. Most of us were surprised by the referendum result, and feel uncertain about whether or not we’ll be able to stay. Even if we are, a lot of us have considered moving out of the UK since the referendum – to other countries in Europe but also to Australia, North America, Asia and the Middle East. (I realise that part of what we’re feeling, as a relatively privileged group of people, are surprise and fear that we may lose some of our privileges.)

Here are some of the things people said:

‘The insecurity is awful. The prospect of the economy tanking and giving rise to even more social issues is awful.’

‘The UK is a temporary landing, so if the governments decides to push me out, I’d happily find another place to call home.’

‘It is the first time in the 14 years I have been here that I feel personally targeted (although I did not experience any incidents) and unwanted. I felt anger, sadness and frustration after hearing the results. I feel the voters for Leave did not know what they were really voting for. They were misled by the politicians. The EU has many faults, and it’s not a perfect system, but … when you have a broken arm you do not cut it off.’

‘As an Irish citizen, I feel like British friends think we are somehow “different” from other EU nationals. As Ireland is its own country, independent of the UK, it’s quite sad … that British people take us as closer to them than the rest of the EU. That said, Irish people could vote in the referendum, so we do have a “different” status in the UK. This situation makes me feel very conflicted.’

‘The UK would be lucky to be a home to well-educated EU citizens like me, but if I feel unwelcome here, uncertain about my future and think that I may be able to get a more rewarding job elsewhere, it is the UK’s loss not mine if I move.’

‘The results have made me feel strange when interacting with people who were eligible to vote. Most of them feel the need to point out … that they voted to remain and for those who don’t, I wonder whether they might be happy with the result and whether they see me as a second class citizen that shouldn’t have any rights here. I witnessed UK flags put up by residents the day after the results in Cambridge, which surprised me.’

‘I cried the morning I woke up to see the result. I love the UK. I love the culture. I love the people. My son was born here. I have worked and paid my taxes in this country from the day I arrived. I would not have been able to be here had it not been for the EU, just like my British friends in Copenhagen would not be able to live there had it not been for the EU. A lot of art, films, local shops, cinemas, monuments would not exist were it not for the EU. I am not saying it is a perfect system, far from it! But it is something we must solve together. It hurts my heart that the great UK would vote to leave. I do feel less welcome here knowing that so many people don’t want me here. Hundreds of thousands of people died for us to be able to have peace in Europe. We must take power over the peace in Europe, and we can only obtain that power together.’

Comments on “But will we want to stay?”

  1. martyn94 says:

    I have met a few of the Erasmus generation recently, quite by chance. Meeting confident and personable and cosmopolitan young people ought to be attractive, and generally is. But an underlying sense of entitlement, and a lack of commitment to anywhere but the scene of their own advancement, is rather less so. The young person in the piece who thinks we are lucky to have them may well be right: but I would still happily give them a smack round the chops and send them home.

    • Michael Schuller says:

      You’re an ass. Some of us “young people” don’t give a toss whether you’re “lucky to have us” or not. We came to the UK to study, found friends and partners and careers, paid our taxes. And every few years had to go back to the Home Office and beg, cap in hand (and stonking great fee cheque, too) and ask to be able to stay and keep working on the lives we were building. I think Tamara Micner is wrong to characterize this simply as “privileged”. Why do those of us who came to Britain — nay, who were recruited to Britain by your government and universities, with the promise of post-study work in return for huge international student fees! — not also have by default the right to pursue the opportunities of our peers in the UK? Smack me around the chops and send me home will you? I left already, because I got tired of being told by the UK government and Theresa May that I wasn’t welcome, despite paying into the system thousands of times more than I ever got out of it, and going into massive debt to do it. But I pity my peers, British, European, and everywhere else, who have to suffer from restricted opportunity because self-satisfied established nitwits like you would round everyone up and start the deportations. You want people to invest in a place, rather than just move on? You have to let them. I would have stayed in the UK, naturalized, and lived the rest of my life there if I’d been allowed. But instead I’ve moved on to a country that welcomes me as an immigrant, and doesn’t take my money with one hand and bust my chops with the other. A country where proving my interest in staying isn’t met with suspicion, or derision.

      Not everyone in the younger generations may feel the sympathy and attachment that I felt for the UK when I was there — that’s their loss. But also, I suspect, the fault of people like you.

      • Graucho says:

        Old fashioned it may be, but people from other countries living and working here are guests, gastarbeiter you might say and civilised people treat guests with hospitality. There has been a lot of very uncivilised behaviour by a small section of the British population of late which can only be deplored. Having had ex-patriate parents, worked in the U.S. and children who have worked abroad, I can report that the practice of giving gastarbeiters all the unpleasant aspects of citizenship e.g. taxes and few of the rights e.g. voting is fairly widely practised. It has to be said that the EU did much to reduce discriminatory practices as far as EU workers were concerned. This of course is about to change.

      • Greencoat says:

        You’ve already left? Thank you and good night.

  2. Tom Chance says:

    I should like to point out that Greens like Caroline Lucas, Natalie Bennett, and even the Eurosceptic Jenny Jones have all spoken in favour of immigration when they have had the chance. Sadly the Remain campaign gave the first two small roles.

  3. Blue Lagoon says:

    Your article gets to the nub of the matter.

    I have heard people saying we British have to escape the European Union because it is a burning house and we must escape. For me, if your friend and neighbour’s house is burning you help them put it out. Instead by voting for Brexit we have crashed our car through one of the walls of the house in our desperation to escape. For me this is totally despicable behaviour and I am thoroughly ashamed of the behaviour of my country.

    However for people who supported Brexit they are not bad people and are sincerely doing what they think is best for the country. However the difference is how they view their place in Europe.

    For me I am proud to be British and see my self as part of Europe and inseparable from its success of failure. For people who voted for Brexit they see themselves as British and separate from Europe and as a result see no problem in playing zero sum games.

    So Europeans in this country should not see themselves as unwelcome. The discussion in this country is about how the British see themselves.

  4. Greencoat says:

    ‘Hundreds of thousands of people died for us to be able to have peace in Europe.

    No, not true. Hundreds of thousands of UK servicemen and women died to prevent the UK being invaded from Europe.

    • Alan Benfield says:

      A remarkably mean-spirited comment.

      In fact, about 383,000 service personnel from the UK and Commonwealth died in combat theatres, along with about 15 million others on the Allied side (about 9 million of those being Soviet citizens).

      We will never know the reasons why those servicemen and service women fought, but to assume their only interest in the war was to ‘prevent the UK being invaded’ is to belittle their sacrifice and the contribution they made to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

      • Greencoat says:

        A remarkably bizarre comment.

        Several members of my family fought (and three died) in combat theatres. The survivors told me to my face why they fought: for King and Country.

        • katinkamae says:

          “The British always liked to believe they stood alone in 1940, a plucky little island defying the massed ranks of fascists and Nazis. What we tend to forget, as Khan reminds us, is that ‘Britain did not fight the second world war, the British empire did.’ Nearly 20 years ago, Antony Beevor reminded us that for most of the war the majority of German troops were facing not westwards over the channel, towards Britain and the US, but eastwards towards Stalin’s Russia. Now Khan performs a similar service when she points out that no less than five million citizens of the British empire joined the military services between 1939 and 1945, and that almost two million of these, ‘the largest volunteer army in history’, were from South Asia. At many of Britain’s greatest victories and at several of the war’s most crucial turning points — El Alamein, Monte Cassino, Kohima — a great proportion of ‘British’ troops were not British at all, but Indian.” (William Dalrymple on The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Yasmin Khan)

          • streetsj says:

            Quite right. So why should they be discriminated against when EU members have instant access. Or was that your point?

            • katinkamae says:

              No, that wasn’t my point. I write in response to Greencoat who seems to be rather selective when referencing British history.

              • Greencoat says:

                You are the selective one.

                Unless every history book is wrong, Britain did stand alone in 1940. The continental countries had either been crushed by the Nazis or were in cahoots with them.

                Indian troops only became a significant force for the allies much later – and only then after the British armed, trained and led them.

                • Canada formally declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939; Australia and New Zealand on 3 September; South Africa on 4 September.

                  • Greencoat says:

                    So what?

                    It doesn’t change the fact that in 1940 Britain was the only nation actually fighting the Nazis.

                    Is that clear now?

                    • Canadian troops were sent to France in 1940 and 23 RCAF pilots were killed in the Battle of Britain. Canada was fighting the Nazis no less actively than the UK.

                      In December 1940, forces from the UK, India, and Australia, and Free French troops defeated Italian forces at Sidi Barrani, not technically Nazis, but certainly part of the Axis.

                    • guanchonazo says:

                      Amazing! It seems that Britain won the war alone. So I wonder where that leaves the Soviet Union. After some reading, I came to believe that Britain played actually a very negiglible part in Hitler’s defeat, namely, as an US military base and that the Wehrmacht was actually defeated by the Red Army – with American material help and no British contribution. But now, history will be rewritten thanks to Greencoat. The turning point in WWII wasn’t after all Stalingrad, but… El Alamein, maybe? Or that great feat about Enigma?

                • mazeltov says:

                  In 1940, the year of my birth, my father joined the South African Army to fight on the side of the Allies.

        • Alan Benfield says:

          And what, exactly, do you extract from that?

          To extrapolate to the remainder is surely presumptuous?

    • cybernaut62 says:

      Greencoat, The UK fought to end the war – and to reestablish peace in Europe, not just to prevent an invasion in 1940.Otherwise we’d have packed it in in 1941 once Germany invaded the USSR and let them slug it out. And as you know – we didn’t do that. But none of this – absolutely none of this – is at all relevant to 2016 and the UK’s vote for Brexit.

  5. Michael Taylor says:

    What in earth 1940 has to do with 2016 beats me. We ‘stood alone’ for some months but Churchill knew it was a policy leading to stalemate at best and the UK needed the US on our side if we were to win and accepted Stalin as an ally after Barbarossa. At the time we had a large navy, air force and the shipbuilding and aviation industries to support them, not to mention automobiles which could be turned to making tanks, admittedly not good ones at first. And now? Stand alone? Joke! And of course that misses the whole point of the EU which is to stop the endless European wars. Do we look forward to fighting the Germans again???? We have also discarded the empire which means my children will not be sent off to fight in places they have never heard of. One of the ironies of WWII was having to fight to retake countries we were about to leave. Grow up!

    • tim bowler says:

      Dear Michael, you are absolutely right, Greencoat is being highly selective in his interpretation of 1940. Indeed at the time there was a rather telling cartoon (I have it at home but can’t remember which paper). Two British soldiers lying on the cliffs looking towards France. “We’re alone then” “Aye, all 500 million of us”.

      It is true that had Operation Sealion taken place then there would have been little immediate large-scale help coming from anywhere – but it’s nothing to do with 2016. (The best-equipped division in the UK in that summer of 1940 was the Canadian division, incidentally).

      Greencoat is just indulging himself in nonsensical point-scoring, Check out his/her other responses to see his/her true character. I understand why many who voted to Leave did so (30 years of neoliberal capitalism eviscerating their local economies) – but EU membership is not really relevant in many ways to that. And when we do finally leave – if we do – then we may have to adopt an even harsher form of neoliberalism to survive – in which case those who are already marginalised will be even more marginalised. Such are the ironies of history

      • cybernaut62 says:

        The 500 million here refers to the population of the-then British empire – it’s not a typo for the UK population.

        My point which I poorly expressed was to counter the 1940-Britain-alone mythologising which regrettably has formed a large part of the post-wary British.

        Any attempt to shout ‘my nation did more than your nation during WW2″ is fundamentally stupid and rather pointless.

    • jcdewey says:

      While we’re on 1940, we should never forget the decisive contribution to the Battle of Britain made by Polish fighter pilots. One of their squadrons, 303, earned the title of leading ‘scorer’ in terms of German aircraft shot down. Overall, Polish pilots accounted for about 1 in 8 of all enemy aircraft destroyed. Sir Hugh Dowding, C-in-C of Fighter Command, went so far as to say, ‘Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the battle would have been the same.’

      During the referendum campaign David Cameron had the nerve to compare his position to that of Churchill in 1940. All I can say is that Churchill, thank God, would never have dreamt of trying to save his political skin by putting such a momentous issue to a referendum (which, indeed, he might well have lost).

  6. A.redoutable says:

    Christ almighty. The comments on this tread show that when it comes to discussing WWII the British have an unparalleled ability to quickly become the uncontested champions of ignorant arrogant navel-gazing ultra-nationalism.

    Do people really believe WWII would have been won without the contributions of all the Europeans who, within their own countries and often at incredible personal cost to themselves, opposed the nazi invasion? What about the millions of French people involved in the Resistánce, the Italian partisani, the Spanish republican exiles, the Norwegian clandestine opposition, and the very many Germans and Austrians who either fought their own country’s government policies in Germany or as exiles elsewhere (e.g. in the US)? Are the British so utterly arrogant as to pretend none of these people contributed a thing to defeating nazi Germany? Have you ever watched the film Casablanca?

    More worryingly, what kind of essentially nationalistic planet do you inhabit where all governments speak for all of their citizens all the time without exception? Do you know the meaning of dissent? Do all British governments always speak on behalf of every single British citizen all the time? And if not, if you have no problem understanding why that is just a tremendously stupid thing to think about yourselves, why is it that you find it so incredibly hard to think it about others? In particular, in the glaring example that was WWII? Why are the British sometimes so conceited about their own status as God’s gift to the world? You are not God’s gift to the world, believe me, in fact we would all be better off if you just leave the EU and leave us alone!

    • Jayme says:

      Why are the British conceited about their status? I always figured their high self-importance remained from their colonial legacy. For better or worse, the British Empire endured into the late 20th century. Do all British governments speak on behalf of all Britons? Perhaps, no more than any other government speaks for all its citizens. Scotland – government and citizens alike – overwhelming opposed Brexit. As an American who once lived in Scotland, I expected that it would. During my tenure there, I felt that the Scottish tolerated me quite well. I occasionally heard or saw anti-immigrant statements, and on one occasion, endured anti-American hostility. But, nothing made me personally feel unwelcomed. Perhaps, as an American, I have a thicker skin; sadly, America isn’t exactly the model for tolerance either – we scarcely tolerate each other, let alone immigrants.

      • A.redoutable says:

        Fair enough about the Scots. I also lived there long and know their lack of arrogance. Which again makes my point about not rushing to judge a person on the basis of their government’s actions alone. This business about “Germany” being defeated by “Britain” is ultimately absurdly simplistic. What brought down nazi Germany is so much more complex than that, just as what brought it up during the 1930’s is much more complex (and incidentally “Britain” does not come out very well in that pre-history, e.g. its government’s indecent inaction during the Spanish civil war, Chamberlain at Munich, etc)

    • outofdate says:

      You have a point, but I gather from your accent that you’re German? The speed with which these debates come round to World War II — in fact a ruinous enterprise that condemned Britain to the third tier ever after — is only a symptom of the national disease, a marrow-deep not-wanting-to-know coupled with a terrible death wish. Something to do with the weight of history. The so-called thoughtful Brexiteers, who marshalled a lot of complex facts to their cause, were forever making sudden snarling noises at the Germans if no utterly favourable exit could be negotiated, preemptively reminding Herr Schaeuble ‘what happened last time’ and so on. In other words, their gut instinct was exactly the same as the boneheads’, and that’s all there was to their thoughtfulness.

      My point is it may have been annoying to watch, but now a result has been achieved that’s perhaps best for everyone, not so much economically and as far as prospects for social justice in England and Wales are concerned, but for the Befindlichkeit of a nation that has essentially turned its face to the wall, and doesn’t wish to relearn how to be. And why should it? People have a right to leave when they feel they’d only embarrass themselves by staying, and it’s natural that they should bluster a bit on the way out.

      • cybernaut62 says:

        Hi outofdate, you have the so-called thoughtful Brexiteers down to a tee. That and the blustering as they (dragging the rest of us along with them) take the UK thought the EU exit door to – well, that’s the $64,000 question…

        Will it all work out ok in the end? Who knows. Come back in 10 years and we’ll let you know is the best line I’ve heard in conversation with a prominent UK economist.

        best wishes Cyber

      • Blue Lagoon says:

        I quite agree with you. I’ve long rely that the attitudes of particularly older brexit voters are a hang over from the first world war. Regardless of who took part and at what time they joined it was a huge thing for Britain and the people are justified in being proud of their achievements. However as the rest of the world has moved on large parts of Britain have continued to view it’s neighbours through the same lens. It is one of the unfortunate traits of my fellow English to move swiftly onto the 2nd world war when dealing with any sort of tension in Europe.

        The UK these days is a medium sized nation that should be focused on the prosperity of its citizens and playing a positive role in the world. Instead i fear that we are on course for one of our periodic encounters where our outsized opinion of our selves and national mythologies will clash with our modest size in the world. If it leads us to be more realistic and treat or friends in Europe with more humility then in the long term all will be good.

  7. XopherO says:

    Yes, not just British pilots fought in the battle of Britain, but what is often forgotten is the role of the English Channel/La Manche. German fighters had to carry more fuel to get here and back and so were heavier and less nimble as a result. In fact the Channel has played a big role in conflicts throughout history, and it probably played a part in turning Hitler towards the East, giving GB time to prepare (and GB did support the Soviet Union with the Merchant Navy’s very dangerous deliveries to Murmansk) Of course, La Manche also plays a role in British xenophobia and isolationism, and thus in the Brexit poll.

    I am British and my wife is French – we spent our working lives in England and left permanently five years ago. My wife was always experiencing Francophobia in one form or another, for nearly 30 years. If one objected: it’s just friendly humour. Very friendly: dirty toilets, eating frogs or foie gras,adopting silly French accents, don’t wash like the Brits, unfriendly, and of course, rescued twice by good old GB, surrender monkeys.

    My wife is happy to be back in the country she left aged 22. If we had still been in England, we would have immediately made the decision to leave we made earlier, and for similar reasons. We look at what is going on in the UK, particularly England with incredulity, but are not really surprised. And now xenophobia and racism have been licensed by Brexit’s leaders. Yes, probably it is time to leave for many ‘foreigners’ living in the UK.

  8. rolandino says:

    I read this whilst on holiday in mainland Europe, and had a few thoughts:
    – The comments re: WWII were and are really odd I thought, it felt like the LRB had suddenly uncovered its readers inner Daily Mail / Express.

    – Given that Theresa Mays comments re: EU citizens in the UK heavily implies that EU citizens living in the UK are now nothing more than bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations, for this reason alone, of course EU citizens should wonder whether to stay or not.

    – But the real question, is why will anyone want to stay, be they EU, UK, or Martian? Given the combination of BREXIT, likely Scottish departure from the UK, and likely one-party Tory statehood once parliamentary boundaries are re-written, the UK (what’s left of it) will to all intents and purposes become a rather tatty, sad and left-behind retail park for most people, where everything is available for a price but in all reality out of most peoples reach – health, education (all ages), law, property. So unless you’re very rich, why stay – if of course you can actually leave? And if you are very rich, they’ll be more pleasant places to be.

    One final comment for EU citizens used to metric measurements: might be worthwhile understanding pounds and ounces … http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/29/ministers-should-let-traders-sell-groceries-in-pounds-and-ounces/. No doubt a return to more blatant racism, sexism, worse quality food, conscription and other nostalgic rubbish is also on the cards.

    All of this is of course supposing that the EU itself doesn’t implode e.g. if GREXIT occurs, or Len Pen or Five Start don’t assume power in France and Italy and also leave the EU, or if the Euro doesn’t collapse. In which case, the UK might seem a decent temporary respite, before fleeing to the US / Canada / Aus / New Zealand / Mars.

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