A few years ago I arrived at Warwick, young and bright-eyed. I felt an immediate sense of homecoming. But I carried a secret. I wasn’t from Worcester or Warrington, but had migrated from the EU. At the time I thought this could hardly matter, but since then I’ve seen Brexit plunge a once great nation into chaos and witnessed what may be the final fall of a once great nation.
Despite the rhetoric of the immigration debate, people don’t come to Britain to live off welfare – Britain doesn’t have much of it comparatively speaking. It is the bantering culture, friendly residents, and the lack of judgement that attract people. In England you aren’t your ethnic heritage. If you think Brits are racist, then you probably haven’t met the average European.
This tolerance, coupled with a booming London, meant that many people saw moving to the UK as an attractive prospect. Come here, live life as you want, and feel like you’re part of something. And if the London bubble starts cooling, then there’s always Birmingham, Coventry, or even Rugby. Things went so well that the government chose not to control migration, unlike France and Germany. Immigrants stopped being just that – immigrants; instead they became citizens. Nowhere else in Europe did integration work so well in the early 2000s.
Politicians were slow to react and in their place stepped charlatans who said they could turn back the clock
What came to be Britain’s undoing was the financial crisis. This country has long has a fault-line going through it: rich and poor don’t mix – some would stretch so far as to say they appear as a different kind. The financial crisis ripped along this divide, and this immigration became a handy scapegoat.
England wasn’t alone though; I remember that fateful summer of 2008. Friends’ parents lost their livelihoods. My then-community was suddenly in its death-throes. Politicians were slow to react and in their place stepped charlatans who said they could turn back the clock.
The idea that booting out migrants betters anything is similarly enticing, and similarly stupid. But it is easier to cast aspersions about who belongs and who doesn’t. But we let that happen. It was perfectly predictable that people without jobs would, eventually, revolt. At Warwick we imagine we, in particular, deserve to be here. It might be so, but lots of us share the same upper-middle-class upbringing. People in Coventry didn’t get the chance to get top grades, and we’re worse off for it.
I’m sort of waiting for someone to call and say “It’ll be alright, you can come home now.”
The day after the vote was a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember everyone sitting around a table and toasting a local feast in a language that was now difficult to keep up with. Through the first few months I didn’t get out much. After work I’d just wander through the nearby woods, pondering. I felt lost, unsure what to do.
I didn’t really have a plan B at this point. People who were born in the right place needn’t worry – it wasn’t like the isles were about to become unanchored and float away. But for me they might as well have. Worryingly, the establishment responded by washing their hands of the issue. If there was a plan to safeguard people who actively chose Britain and didn’t just default into it, they didn’t let on. After the vicious Brexit debate I didn’t have it in me to fight another fight, so I left.
I was not the only one worried. If one was to search for “reasons for Brexit”, Google will place your location as Madrid. I’ve heard Spaniards now reporting that they find better jobs in their home economy than in the UK. Spain, you know, the country where anarchists rioted on the streets just a few years back. Yet for many their home economy isn’t their home and they miss their real home dearly. True for most of those despicable EU migrants, people like me.
And do I miss Britain. The fields, creeks, and tiny backstreets leading to quaint pubs. Coffee shops hiding in plain view along the high street. People who can break into a conversation about the weather, AI, favourite pets or self-driving cars. A genuine respect for those who go forth and explore the world. A hearty welcome when you come home.
The Britain I moved to, where people don’t care who you are, is slowly dying
I’m sort of waiting for someone to call and say “It’ll be alright, you can come home now.” But I know that won’t happen. The Britain I moved to, where people don’t care who you are, is slowly dying. I can’t bear to watch. So for the moment I remain a citizen of nowhere, slightly cross that no one made the tough decisions this country needed.
But maybe it will all be over by Christmas. Finally there is a collective groan as business suffer a departing workforce. There might not be any reliable lettuce supply until we’re allowed back. And whereas I cannot speak for everyone, I don’t really mind this bout of madness. Because despite everything, no place but Britain has ever felt quite like home.