According to Theresa May my support for the European Union casts me as a “Citizen of the World – a citizen from nowhere”. People, like me, simply do not understand what good citizenship requires. Standing on a podium with a slogan announcing “A country that works for everyone” Theresa May appears quite happy to assume that 48% of the British people are not “everyone”.
“…. if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”
My family name is about as English as it gets although we are told that the first Garnett on the English shores was a Norman knight who invaded along with William the Conqueror back in 1066. Not that I think we are a direct descendant of a noble Frank – more likely one of the serfs to whom his name was bestowed as was the tradition in those days. Flick through the yellow pages and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Garnett’s scattered across the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand etc. etc. No. If this kind of thing is important to you and to Theresa May it obviously is my name is of sound provenance, as it my accent and my skin colour – it’s my background and interests that makes me suspect in our Prime Minister’s eyes. Very suspect indeed.
I have never, in my entire life – ever – called myself, suggested or otherwise believed that I am a “citizen of the world” but if May were to draw up a tick-box of what she believes a citizen of the world would look like then I probably tick all the wrong boxes. I am, you see, the off-spring of a British-German marriage, married to a Belgian with four children living in Belgium, a French brother-in-law, an American brother-in-law, a sister who lives in France with three nieces attending a school in rural France and one of my nephews has Japanese ancestry. I openly admit to enjoying meeting people from different countries and cultures. When I fantasise about winning the lottery my thoughts typically drift towards travel and trips to far-flung places. I openly admit that well regulated international institutions, working in balance with national and local authorities, are critical to delivering a stable and prosperous society for everyone and not just elites.
It is highly unlikely that Theresa May and I will ever meet but were we to bump into each other over a cup of tea I have no doubt she would definitely label me one of those dreadful “Citizen of the World” types totally incapable of understanding the desires, hopes, needs and aspirations of local communities. According to Theresa May “Citizens of the World” are culturally adrift with no place to anchor their identity. People like me are superfluous to requirements, our loyalties suspect, our intentions quite clearly impure.
“Citizens of the World behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the street.” Theresa May, Conservative Party Conference, October 2016
In two short sentences Theresa May has reduced people like me to a sneering snob, a callous elite, an uncaring citizen who has no idea what it means to have a British identity let alone what it means to be a good citizen. My loyalty and love for my international family clearly indicate that I am incapable of greeting a neighbour with a smile, caring for my co-workers or feeling any empathy with ordinary passers-by. Disagreeing with May’s weltanschaung is no longer an opinion in May’s Britain – disagreement is tantamount to violating what it means to be British – potentially even treasonous.
Actually, I always considered myself firmly anchored to my British identity whilst being very appreciative of my German heritage. If people ask I always say I am English but with a German mother. My parents brought me up to appreciate both cultures. There was no shame in embracing both. Why I still support the English team when Germany are World Champions I have no idea – but there you go. I do.
I have a highly romanticised view of my British citizenship, which Theresa May would probably like nothing better than to deprive me of since I am such a supporter of the EU. In Belgium I am definitely “British” for my barmy enjoyment of wet, soggy walks with a muddy collie and asking for milk in my tea. I confess to getting teary-eyed over flint-stone pubs, white horses etched onto chalky downs, stone age constructions in Avebury and cream teas in the summer – all flash-backs to my upbringing in Wiltshire. I remember the sheep grazing in the drizzle opposite my school in North Wales, week-end trips to Snowdonia, walks in the Lake District with good friends, camping holidays in Cornwall, snake-bite and black at University and G & T’s with ice and a splice at The Hatchet in Wiltshire. So many memories all threaded together in a beautiful pattern of belonging. I could go on and on but it no longer matters because according to Theresa May my appreciation of an open, harmonious and thriving Europe negate these small cultural identities into memories from nowhere.
The fact that my British father served Her Majesty loyally and faithfully all of his working life and the fact that he has an MBE from Her Majesty attesting to this loyalty is neither here nor there according to Theresa May’s world view. The fact that my father, my German-born mother, my two sisters, my children, my nieces and nephews, my cousins and I all have a British passport, British birth certificate and British nationality means nothing to Theresa May. The fact that at the age of ten I was sent away to a boarding school so that my father could continue to serve Her Majesty loyally, faithfully and diligently as he zigzagged his way across the world in the service of Her Majesty is, I guess, a trifling matter to Theresa May. His public service meant he had to move every three years from one post to the next. Yet, rather than applauding his commitment my two sisters and I are now regarded as cold, disinterested “Citizens of the World” – we are not the daughters of a man who served his country but part of a sneering liberal, privileged elite of suspect parentage, with dubious loyalties and no fixed identity.
Since I am, according to her definition, from “nowhere” she would probably rather I just crawled back to nowhere (where ever that may be) and disappear. Given that nowhere is a non-existent State it is more likely that one day, as she reigns supreme over Brexit Britain, Theresa May will insist that people like me wear badges on our sleeves instead saying “Citizen of the World. Citizen from Nowhere” so that the passers-by we apparently do not care for can point their fingers and cry “Look there goes an uncaring, sneering elite who has the shame to love an “other” and is polluted by foreign blood.”
….and when I say “people like me” I guess I would have to include quite a few colourful figures from the Vote Leave campaign beginning with Boris Johnson the blond, affable gent with the baritone toffs accent many find so British but who is himself is a mis-match of German, Jewish and Turkish ancestry. I suppose, this would also include, his wife Marina Wheeler whose mother came from India and who met her future husband Boris Johnson at an elitist, international school in Brussels, Nigel Farage whose name stems from Belgium and who has two daughters with his German wife. Let us not forget Dominic Raab whose father was a Czech citizen but who found sanctuary in the United Kingdom in 1938 when Jews were forced to wear their ethnicity on their sleeves in the form of a yellow Star of David. Perhaps we should also include in the bunch of “Citizens of the World” roll of honour Dominic Raab’s attractive Brazilian wife Erika Raab who one hopes has got either citizenship or residency rights or hasn’t had the audacity to visit her family in Brazil for long periods of time – otherwise who knows what flight back to Brazil Mrs Raab might be forced to take in the middle of the night on a Sunday for over-staying her visit. Then there is Gisela Gschaider, born in Germany but who now goes by the more anglicised (or should I say Scotticised?) name of Stuart. Last but not least the pretty Priti Patel whose family too found sanctuary in an open Britain in 1972 when Idi Amin using different language but a similar sentiment decided that all ethnic Indians in Uganda were “Citizens from Nowhere” and forced them to leave with a 90 day notice.
Of course I can’t speak for either Johnson, Farage, Wheeler, Raab, Gschaider or Patel but I suspect that if asked, they like me, are equally dismayed at the suggestion that they too one day could be labelled “citizen’s of nowhere” – because let’s face it they are dangerously close to being labelled as such. A cat’s whisker away from being cast as “internationalists” or “Citizens of the World” and therefore incapable of understanding what good citizenship means. Did Johnson, Wheeler, Raab, Gschaider and Patel squirm in their seats when they heard Theresa May elucidate these ideas at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2016 but ignore it for the greater good of a quick, hard Brexit? Did they think about their own “internationalism” and did a shadow of fear creep over their brows quickly set aside by the thought that could never happen here? Did it make them all the more determined to put forward their best Brexit faces as if to hide the fact that they, like me, have a hodgepodge of genes and backgrounds that are not 100% pure blood. Do they believe that if they put their best Brexit faces forward they can somehow avoid having to wear a badge labelled “Citizen of the World. Citizen of Nowhere” so that the good citizen Theresa May can identify who is sound and who it not?
Is Gisela trying to be more “British than the British” in heading the Vote Leave campaign? Perhaps she hopes that MPs like Bill Cash will now accept her into the fold? Could this explain why Raab with his obviously foreign sounding name but pale English skin feels compelled to sneer at the European Union to prove to his Tory peers that he is “one of them”really? Could this explain why Priti Patel sucks up to the likes of John Redwood’s distorted logic on the EU in the hope that he will finally ignore her skin colour, Indian name and accept her as a good British citizen not a citizen from nowhere – a suggestion that must have haunted, if not her, but her parents since their own close call with statelessness forty years ago? What about Marina Wheeler? Was she bullied at school for being “half-Indian” and not a pure blood? Anyone with some “mud-blood” gets bullied at some point at a young age in school for their “otherness”. In my case it was the Nazi salute and the two fingers under the nose signifying Adolf Hitler. It was Wheeler, apparently, who urged her husband to burn the flame for Vote Leave on the grounds of “sovereignty” – but as a highly respected, well read and informed QC did she not draw the logical conclusion that in rejecting the EU she is partially responsible for handing Theresa May the rusty tin-opener to yank open a can of worms that released the foul stench of “Hate Crime” – the rotten perfume that now clings so distastefully to the beautiful white cliffs of a now foul-smelling Brexit Britain.
What ever their reasons for supporting Brexit – fear of exposure, opportunism, misguided ideology – I am not one of them. I proudly wear my internationalism on my sleeve. I’ve never denied, tried to hide or in any other way concealed my joy in meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. Diversity is the zest of life, differences can be interesting, exposure to new ideas uplifting. They keep our nation dynamic, fresh, optimistic and full of hope. Why would I not support the EU which encourages all of these things? I don’t feel the need to prove that I am British by supporting a flawed logic and a campaign based on cheating and lies as the only route to victory.
“United in Diversity” is the EU’s slogan and a very fine one it is too since it recognises how important our diversity is.
Since birth I have taken it for granted – and still do – that being a British citizen is perfectly compatible with supporting the EU. My support for remaining an active member of the European Union in no way negates my loyalty to either Her Majesty or our unwritten, organic constitution. I understand what it means to be a good citizen of Britain. I do belong and I belong to a nation that values freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for others and minorities. These are our traditions of which we are all proud. Cheating, lying and fibbing are not part of the traditions we like to boast about and yet May sadly rewards Boris Johnson, a man on record for lying, with high office? He is a good citizen and a good representative of Great Britain but we who support the EU are not?
I have argued elsewhere and will argue again that the values of liberty, democracy, rule of law, equality before the law and justice are our greatest export to the rest of the world – better than the Mini, better than Earl Grey tea, better than Wedgwood vases and far more noble and exciting than a bag-free Dyson hoover. Better even than a magnificent JCB digger.
These are the traditions and customs of the realm that determine what good citizenship means both in the UK and in the EU. It is these values and traditions that we all – English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish – can coalesce around. It is respect for these shared values that determine what it means to be a good British citizen. It doesn’t matter if you can trace your family tree back on both sides to Harold the Great or whether your family has lived in Sunderland for the past four centuries. It matters not a jot whether you have had the very great privilege of a, happy, secure and loving up-bringing in a vicarage in Berkshire or whether you were raised in the Shetland. Who cares whether Johnson, Wheeler, Raab, Farage, Stuart or Patel are a mixture of different gene-pools? I certainly don’t. What matters is respect for and defence of our shared British values. Only if we understand this can we begin to defend our traditional way of life and guard ourselves against the threat of those who do not share these values – of which sadly there are still too many.
Happily for us the EU shares these values:
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail, Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.
There is no conflict in being a British citizen and supporting a reformed EU. They are perfectly compatible and the only way to defeat the real enemies of our solid traditions and liberties is to accept that we are strong united. I would also be most grateful if May were to accept in a spirit of good will that “people like me” do, in fact, greet our neighbours with a smile, we do care about our co-workers and yes we are concerned about the fate of passers-by.