Watching the results last night, I started to realize that I now feel more European then British. If, as a result of the referendum, I am offered the choice of a British (UK) passport or a general European one, I think I would take the European one. As a US dual passport holder, who has not lived in the UK since the beginning of 1968, I am not here renouncing my UK rights, but given that choice, that’s my feeling today. It does not help that I did not even have the right to vote in the UK referendum, even though it is likely to result in the loss of my UK-based right to live and work in the EU. (By the way, at the end of World War II, many people faced complex changes in citizenship, with hard to make choices.)
I, like many expats, have extensive family links in the EU, in my case in Poland, so that impacts my feelings. I might even have rights to EU citizenship through Poland, Ireland, or even Scotland (assuming they leave the UK and join the EU, through ancestors. But, that’s the point, we are European citizens, rather than UK or English ones, just like we are American, rather than Maryland citizens.
I am strongly influenced by respect for the German response to the refugee crisis, which is literally orders of magnitude better than the American. (Germany has a bit more than a quarter of the US population, but is admitting 200 times the number of Syrian refugees, for a multiplier of close to 800 times the US per capita rate).
But above all, Europeans have been far more forceful in promoting the European Project, while the latest vote is only the latest manifestation of British ambivalence going back to the 1950’s. That was reflected in the appalling campaign, that was all, on both sides, about appeal to selfish interests. (There’s a long history of this. The Tory election slogan in 1959, inevitably reflecting Britain’s class realities, was “You’ve Never Had It So Good. Note the “You.”)
In a positive campaign, the challenges Europe is facing would be a reason to stay and help, not one to flee and, literally, closing the UK (or probably just parts of it if) off. I nearly typed “reason for us to stay and help,” and then realized that I do not feel “us” any more.
I suspect that many, but far from all, UK expats are feeling some of this today. Even though the EU Project may be able to move forward, at least in the long term, better without the UK, it will ultimately be a less valuable project without my birth country.