Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

“My country is having an identity crisis. So am I” – a blog for The New Federalist and Le Taurillon - final episode

, by Madelaine Pitt

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Take my citizenship, take my rights. I'm more European than ever
MEPs join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne after voting through the Withdrawal Agreement. Credit: European Parliament

We lost, and no amount of grief will change it.

The EU-28 becomes the EU-27 tonight. Remainers have lost, but so has the EU, so have progressives, and the causes of openness, truth, justice and democracy.

We lost, and the grief weighs heavy.

To the non-British Europeans in Britain…I’m sorry

My heart goes out to the EU-27 citizens living in my country. They have been scapegoated, refused documentation and been forced to apply to continue living in their homes. The Conservative tsunami of xenophobia has shown utter contempt for the three million human beings who have contributed to our society in so many ways. Some have been personally threatened with deportation by the Home Office. Many more have received disgusting online abuse, told to “clear off home” or menaced with physical assault – all legitimised by the discourse of a government which has pathetically pandered to extreme right ideology. I’m so angry on behalf of the non-UK Europeans who have suffered so much from this, so ashamed of how my country has treated them, while some of their countries have been such wonderful welcoming homes for me.

Brexit, the essence of populism

No Brexiteer has yet given me (or, judging by my Twitter feed, anyone else) a single sound reason why Brexit is a good thing. That’s because there aren’t any and it isn’t. The only people who stand to benefit are those whose careers and egos are dependent on the sadistic glory of having belittled a nation into accepting tremendous self-harm, and those who can exploit the the few economic bonuses available only to the super-rich – betting against the pound or avoiding EU tax laws. Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the like fit these categories, and they do not care how many people lose as long as they can gain.

To make this possible, they told us a story. First, they constructed the myth of great and solitary nation, enraptured by its own perfection so as to allow us to sneer down upon our neighbours, playing upon nostalgia for past colonial and military dominance, cooking up patriotic sentiment then smoothly blurring it into nationalism.

Next, they interwove this image with a tale of Europe; a tale of bureaucracy, ridiculous regulations, overpaid unelected officials, waves of unwanted immigrants (who both stole our jobs and claimed our unemployment benefits, apparently not a mutually exclusive combination), wasted taxpayer money, and, above all, meddling in our affairs.

Their lies and corrupted vision of Europe were reprinted with dumb gusto by the right-wing press, whose right-wing owners, standing to gain themselves from a low-tax-for-the-wealthy Conservative government, appear to have little interest in seeking the truth. The myth of exaggerated national greatness worked, but they would have jumped on any old story that would have done the trick.

Brexit is anything but democratic. It is the result of asking a public ignorant about the EU a meaningless question with no clear idea of what Brexit would entail or what the consequences would be. It is the result of false claims (which were urged on by the tabloids), fake news, possible Russian interference, illegal funding of the Leave campaign, absurd bungling by opposition parties who preferred bickering to cooperation. It’s the Conservatives’ pathetic attempt to sew their party back together. All propped up by the story they fed us.

Those who believed it

How do I feel towards those who voted leave? It depends. Mostly they’re just people who believed a story – and, in the rural areas and suburbs of the Midlands and the North, where people have suffered most from vanishing manufacturing jobs and a decade of Tory austerity, who can blame them for demanding change? A recent UN report condemned the deliberate chipping away of the British welfare state - a fifth of the UK population lives in poverty, with 1.5 million living in destitution. Of course not all of them voted leave, yet why should people cheerfully agree that things should continue as they are?

It’s also crucial to acknowledge that people who benefit most from the more visible benefits of European membership are those who have the means to travel and the opportunity of attending university. What good is visa-free travel and the Erasmus scheme otherwise?

For the educated, middle-class Leavers who had the tools to know better, who themselves have benefitted massively from ease of travel, it is different. I struggle to understand the simmering arrogance of those who knowingly voted to take away our rights and the rights of future generations, just because they themselves would be OK.

But they too have been sucked into the story of national superiority. They didn’t start it.

A photo I took on the People's Vote March in October 2018 of young people climbing up on the scaffolding to wave their signs to the 700,000 attendees. By the looks of them, they were probably too young to vote in 2016

Brexit and me

The reason I titled this blog “My country is having an identity crisis. So am I” is that, returning to Britain in September 2018 to find British culture and identity infested with Brexit, I realised how strongly my own identity had been, and was yet to be, shaped by the referendum result. Over a year and ten blog entries later, it is appallingly clear that the divisions which I perceived in my country are only going to worsen drastically over time.

Soaring inequalities will hit the most deprived in society worse than ever once the impact of Brexit takes hold on the economy. The governments of the devolved nations have all voted against the Brexit deal, knowing how damaging it will be and knowing how far Boris Johnson had to back down to secure it. Yet it will be imposed upon them anyway. Scotland will eventually, be it in two, three, five or ten years, hold a new independence referendum and vote to leave, and rejoin the EU. A united Ireland is not impossible. The United Kingdom is finished.

Meanwhile, the Remainer-Brexiteer vendetta is going nowhere, and it will continue to set families, neighbours and friends against each other. Remainers have already been proved they are right time and again – just take the fact that, by the end of the year, Brexit will have cost us more than all the contributions the UK has ever made to the EU budget put together. Why should we meekly accept the meaningless bile doled out by the government that we should all unite as we enter a golden era? Leavers, on the other hand, will not take kindly to the “I told you so’s” when the pack of cards collapses.

My country’s identity crisis is far from over. What of mine?

Our experiences shape us

Because of Brexit, as I have tried to explore throughout this blog, the British complex about being a declining power in a world over which we no longer have very much control has been exposed, manifesting itself a shift towards looking inwards rather than outwards. This makes me feel distinctly un-British. Yet I have met many amazing progressive-minded people while campaigning, who, like me, are stuck with a strange sense of humour, an inability to be direct, and an obsession with tea. Against the odds, I’ve found some peace with being British.

In the meantime, I speak three European languages; I’m lucky enough to have travelled in 26 of the 28 member states; I worked for three years in France; I’m now studying in Germany. More importantly, I have friends and contacts from Estonia to Portugal and everywhere in between. I’m incredibly sad that younger generations won’t have the kind of opportunities that I have come to cherish dearly; the opportunities which I have had thanks to the European project, which, having grown out of the disaster of the two world wars with the aim of preventing a third, has given me so much access to the wonderful cultural diversity of my continent.

In fact, paradoxically, I’m more European than ever.

But Brexit has changed more than my identity. It’s changed my life.

Me on my 25th birthday in Strasbourg, where I worked for two years at the university

Activist, student, expat, journalist

I should have fought more, but I’m proud to have fought. The hours I spent fixing signs on campus, writing letters and emails, attending demonstrations, marching through London, lobbying MPs in person, handing out leaflets and door-to-door canvassing might one day be a comfort to me. It didn’t work, but at least I stood up to be counted. I’m ashamed that it took the prospect of my own rights being taken away for me to take to the streets, and I have a profound admiration for those, like many in the parent organisation of this webzine, the Young European Federalists, who campaign tirelessly for the greater good of all. The pro-Remain groups I was part of are all but disbanded, but I’ll keep campaigning for a federalist Europe, and turn my attention to other causes, like gender equality and action on climate change.

Brexit has turned me into an activist.

The morning of the 24th June 2016 was shattering. Up to that point, politics had been something that happened in Westminster, and it was just people in suits arguing on TV. As stupid as it is, I don’t think I had really grasped that politics in developed democracies such as the UK ever fundamentally affected people’s lives. That, too, is partly question of privilege, but also proof that we desperately need some kind of political education in schools – about Britain and also the EU.

Because of Brexit, I’m now studying for a Master’s degree in Political Science.

I moved from Strasbourg to York, in the north of England, in October 2018, and stuck at it for all of five months. Leaving for Germany in March last year was a giant weight off my shoulders, and I realised how much freer, more fulfilled and healthier I feel abroad. It’s going to be harder to stay here, but I won’t ever return to the UK.

Brexit has turned me into an expatriate.

And most of all…Brexit has pushed me towards the career I think I’ve always vaguely been interested in but never had the confidence to pursue. The utter failure of the majority of the British press to communicate anything remotely relevant about the European Union contributed hugely to the widespread ignorance which made the UK fertile terrain for populist lies; bad journalism helps democracies fail, as ours has. I began to see the need for a realistic, informative, positive and critical discourse on Europe. I discovered The New Federalist in April 2018. A year and a half and fifty articles later, I’m proud to be the editor, and want to make writing and informing my career.

Brexit has made me a journalist.

It’s funny how things turn out.

The UK: a European nation

Citizenship or no citizenship, rights or no rights, there is a huge pro-European movement in the UK whose values, determination and mindset will continue to defy the direction in which political forces have swept us. One day we will take the UK back into the EU, when the myths flogged by the Conservatives for decades have been debunked.

On the day of Britain’s departure from the European Union, Britain is a Remain nation, and many of us, myself included, have finally woken up to what it means to be European citizens. Many lukewarm feelings have finally erupted into fully-fledged passion for the project which has given us peace, prosperity and freedom. And the pain of leaving the European Union is so great for so many because by leaving we have found out what it means to us.

The grief weighs heavy. But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling more European than ever.

With thanks to Laura Mercier, Louise Guillot and Théo Boucart for taking care of the original version of this blog in Le Taurillon, “Mon pays est en crise d’identité. Moi aussi”. Thanks for your encouragement, your patience, and your grammar corrections! Thanks to the former editor of The New Federalist Juuso Järviniemi who used to take care of my blog in English - before I had the power to publish it myself! – and who got me involved in TNF in the first place. And thanks to the entire JEF network for all your love and support on this difficult day.

Your comments

  • On 31 January 2020 at 21:22, by Iwantout Replying to: Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

    1 of 5 A very long article requires a very long response.

    In 2016 the electorate were asked a straight forward question and gave a clear answer, that campaign ended in June 2016. What you have lost today is the guerrilla campaign to frustrate and undermine the democratic demand of the people. The following three elections were won by parties that promised to uphold the result. It was only after the lies Labour put forward in 2017 were exposed by their subsequent actions that they had such a catastrophic result in the 2019 election, especially in their heartlands which had supported the Referendum result. To misquote Bertolt Brecht after the 1953 East German uprising: “Would it not be easier for the EU to dissolve the people and appoint another?”. How you have the affrontery to mention openness when your site has censored public comments for several years, would be laughable if it was not so revealing of the absolute belief you have that yours is the only view that is to be permitted. That is not supportive of democracy, truth or justice. I suggest you read a little about structural false consciousness.

    But to details.

    The EU citizens living in the UK are in a much better position than UK citizens living in the EU. EU citizens will have to apply for settled status which is guaranteed, only 6 have been refused (all exceptionally violent offenders already in prison) out of 2.5m+ applicants. You on the other hand have no idea of what the German Government will do because they have simply not published their residency process yet.

    As for ‘being refused documentation’, this is highly disingenuous in this context, it gives the impression applicants are being refused rights but in fact refers to an ID card type of document. The UK almost alone amongst EU states does not require anyone to carry documentation to prove who they are. A much freer situation don’t you think?

    No one would support xenophobic abuse, but unfortunately there are thugs in every country who singly fail to represent anyone other than their tiny group. It has to be said such groups seem to be much more prevalent in the EU, certainly in terms of attacking migrants and burning migrant hostels.

    In a wider context regarding racism, it is instructive that on the day the UK MEPs left, the BME representation in the European Parliament dropped from 36 to 24, ie fully a third of the non-white MEPs were from the UK, and you tell us we are the racist xenophobes. In the European Parliament BME representation is now 3.4%, in the UK it is 10%, although given your later support for Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, none come from those countries. Suggests the English are actually overall very much more supportive of minority groups than the EU or indeed UK average.

  • On 31 January 2020 at 21:23, by Iwantout Replying to: Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

    2 of 5 You demand a single sound reason for Brexit. We can argue endlessly as to whether membership of the EU is a good thing economically, suffice it to say there is absolutely no evidence that it is and some evidence that it is not. I refer you to the Penn World Tables, EU 2006 report by trade commissioner Gunter Verhuegen, assorted FT reports (personal favourite “The single market has been an overhyped, but mostly disappointing programme, with no measurable impact on GDP” 26/11/12 Munchau) etc. In fairness most openminded analysts say the EU has little overall effect economically (LSE Prof Ian Begg et al). But for me and most Brexiteers, the huge benefit of Brexit is return of democratic control. It may not seem much to an avowed federalist Remainer but to many it is vital if you are to consider yourself a free people.

    The EU has an enormous democratic deficit. A Parliament that cannot initiate, amend or revoke legislation staffed by MEPs elected under a regressive proportionality system and that refuses to follow its own d’Hondt system where it does not appeal to them.

    Commissioners who are nominated by elected governments BUT appointed by the very same flawed MEPs and who cannot then be removed regardless of how egregious their actions might be unless the entire commission is disposed of.

    A Council of Ministers which does not allow public scrutiny OR even the taking of minutes for later publication.

    A Court of Justice which has as a major theme the push towards integration, with a demonstrated will to ignore ‘binding undertakings’ and even specific laws, eg. Edinburgh Agreement, Article 123 of the TFEU and Article 21.1 of the Statute for the ESCB etc. Indeed the Court has been condemned by one of its own judges (Judge Dehousse) as well as eminent continental politicians / judges President Roman Herzog and Marc Bossuyt.

    A Central Bank that is not answerable to anyone, and that does not publish its interest rate discussions for 30 years. (The Bank of England does so after 14 days!) Amazing, a central bank with no political overwatch at all.

    All this before you talk about the refusal to accept referendum results or the replacement of democratically elected leaders (Papandrerou and Berlusconi in 2011) by EU functionaries.

    So yes, national democracy is important and the very real prize of Brexit. By the way, I don’t (nor do most other thinking people) believe the UK is a particularly special nation merely that we can run our own affairs like the vast majority of other countries. That by being outside the EU we can engage more easily with other nations and stop being engaged in endless inward-looking European angst. By the way the only people who talk about the Empire are Remainers. The Empire was long gone before I was born, (you’d have to be 80+ to remember India as a colony for example) you might as well bemoan the invasion by Rome for all the relevance it has to us.

  • On 31 January 2020 at 21:24, by Iwantout Replying to: Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

    3 of 5 Then we get to the wicked right-wing press and the lies that they tell. I really would have thought that growing up in the UK you would have realised there is an enormous range of news media available, From the rabidly anti EU Daily Express, Mail etc, through the fawningly supportive Guardian, FT, Observer etc. In short, we have a real range of publications to choose from. Broadcast media is much more restrictive with the BBC leading the pro EU message. (Subject of 3 reports since 2000 all of which have criticised the BBC for its heavy pro EU Bias – Prebble Report the latest.) Most academics suggest that media organisations tailor their message to attract customers rather than shape their customers views, preference bubbles if you like.

    As for the soothing idea that we did not know what we were voting for, I did and so did most of the people I know who voted to leave. I would suggest that in fact the majority of those voting Remain had little idea of what the EU is, how it works or where it is heading. I have met none (including the prospective Lib/Dem candidate for my town) who when challenged could even tell me how the EU legislative process worked, the role of the comitology system or indeed what even important EU acronyms meant (EEAS anyone?) What all the EU supporters do talk about is the supposed importance of the EU to the economy (see above). Not a single EU advocate on main stream UK media has ever talked about federalisation and what that means. Essentially the EU is being sold under an entirely false prospectus to the public and being lied to continuously by Remainer politicians. It is also why once we are finally clear of the EU it is unlikely we will ever re-join. The EU itself will have moved on so far towards federalisation that it will be unsaleable here.

    You are correct that those (such as yourself) who have the wealth and time to travel and study around the EU have a gilded life. Most of us study at the local school, go to university if we wish (attendance rates have increased under the horribly right-wing government you roundly condemn) and then get a job. We travel as we can and if it is important to us. In my case I have visited well over half the EU states and many other countries around the World, I enjoy the sights and sounds as much as anyone. Travel around the World is far freer than you would have us believe. Visas for tourism are actually pretty rare, for work of course that is something else.

    You mention Erasmus+, did you know that the major source of student loan default is EU students returning to the EU and declining to repay the loans they took out? Not many people do know and I bet if they did the tax payers would be angry, but perhaps that is just another case of the evil UK being unreasonable.

  • On 31 January 2020 at 21:25, by Iwantout Replying to: Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

    4 of 5 It is I would suggest your gilded life that has detached you from the reality of most people. You (as statistically have most wealthy people) benefited enormously from the EU and fail to see the negative impact it has had on the poorer in society. The Governor of the Bank of England (Mark Carney who is supportive of EU membership) acknowledged to Parliament (31/05/15) that uncontrolled EU migration was forcing wages down. To put numbers on that Oxford University Migration Observatory showed a 1% rise in migration depressed overall wages by 0.3% but much more for the poorest. John Denham, (Labour MP) reported that the hourly rate for builders had dropped by 50%, while Guardian journalist (John Harris) in a series “Anywhere but Westminster” disclosed how wages for a builder in the North East had dropped from £14 an hour to £11. How would you feel with a drop in income of 22 – 50%? One of the reasons for increased poverty I wonder? Let alone the impact of losing up to 20% of the economically active population from states who provide these workers (e.g. Lithuania and Bulgaria with a 9.1% drop in Ireland.) Migrants are good hard-working people often educated to degree level but with official stats showing approx 75% doing low skilled work. Yes, they do boost overall GDP but critically studies in Australia, Netherlands, US as well as the UK show not GDP per capita. Movement is good, but it does have issues as well, that are rarely acknowledged by the richer members of society.

    The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have indeed voted against Brexit. But the Referendum was a national vote, not by country. Between them these assemblies combined represent only 16.1% of the electorate, please remember the people of Wales did vote to leave but that has been ignored by the Welsh Assembly.

    The anger over Brexit is as much in the hands of the Remainers as anyone else. Why is it they seem incapable of accepting the democratic vote that has happened? Your article suggesting that Brexit will soon cost more than our total EU contributions originates from a German business publication, so it is of questionable impartiality, but fair enough. I would simply ask why the UK has a faster growth rate than Germany and is on a par with the eurozone. Why the IMF forecast the UK as continuing to out grow the EU for at least the next two years. Why Forbes Magazine has found the UK as the best place in the World to do business for the last two years, and why the UK is forecast to be the only European economy still in the G7 by 2100 (Germany forecast to be 9th) according to the Pardee Centre https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-on-the-wane-global-economics-demographics-gdp/ As I said earlier, we can talk economics for a very long time. But this is an discussion about democracy, sovereignty and politics not economics.

  • On 31 January 2020 at 21:27, by Iwantout Replying to: Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

    5 of 5 Both you and I fought, for different sides but we did fight. I fought to regain my rights, my right to have a say in how my country is governed, how we progress and the direction we take. I wanted that to be subject to control of all Britons, not to be in a situation where since 1st November 2014 non euro countries could (and very regularly were) told what to do under the QMV system regardless of how it damages them. Ultimately, I take pride in the fact that the 2016 UK vote was the only referendum I am aware of where the EU lost and then was not able to ignore the result.

    In the final analysis, you and I are both extremists, you for a Federal Europe and me for the nation state. My question to you as someone who loudly proclaims their democratic credentials is twofold. Firstly, do the voters ever get a say on your objective or is it something that will just be delivered in salami slices until they wake up one day and find it a done deal? You do believe after all that it is too complex for the ordinary people to understand. Secondly how is democracy served by an organisation that fails to engage with those it claims to represent and thereby encourages the growth of ever more extreme parties. As I have said in previous responses, for all our many faults, the UK does not have an AfD, PVV, National Rally, FPO etc, why do you think that is?

    For the vast majority in the UK the Common Market / EC / EU was always a financial transactional engagement, there was never an emotional attachment or desire for a Union. If it helps, your wish for one as a Briton makes you part of a very very small club. But it does go a very long way to explaining why over the last eight years I have seen this site move from a position explaining why no referendum regarding EU membership would ever be held in the UK (Sept 2012), to why Remain would triumph (May 2015), to how the out decision could be reversed (Various 2017 – 19) to the bitter recrimination you posted today. At every step your editorial board has misjudged the situation.

    I will continue to read this site in the future, if only to watch the way you report events from your own perspective. Many thanks for eight years of interesting commentary.

    Good luck with your career.

  • On 4 February 2020 at 22:28, by Pedro Garcia Replying to: Take my citizenship, take my rights. I’m more European than ever

    Dear Madelaine, Writes you a Portuguese European (and I apologize in advance for any mistakes I might make on my English language skills). The day the result of the UK 2016 referendum came out, my heart stopped, at our home, we all didn’t know what to say, we just kept looking at each other in silence. How could the UK have turned it’s back on our common peace project, specially, when it started with the words of Winston Churchil: “United States of Europe”? (may Victor Hugo forgive me) First, I felt betrayed by our oldest ally (Portugal - Britain, allies since the 14th century, and we have so much to thank you for). Then, I came to realize it wasn’t a betrayal per se, but a victory of ignorance - and so dangerous that it is... So I started following every single news on Brexit, every day. Finally, I understood: The UK had joined the EU club with the intent of making of it an Economic Union with Peace as a side effect, when the EU was in fact, at its core, since the very beggining, a Political and Peace Union with economic advantages as a side effect and others, as it was built on the promise of lasting Peace and with an ever closer Union as a goal. And the UK (the powers that have been) knew it from the first moment they joined. So, there might be other reasons, but I can understand why there were decades of disservice of the British media towards the EU - I understand, without agreeing with it. I always had the hope that this madness would stop. It was like watching a brother or sister hurt themselves voluntarily without being able to do anything to help - and the feeling of helplessness came over me. But it didn’t stop, and again, your last elections broke my heart. I believe you will rejoin, we all do - and we long for that day to come. Thank you for this article - it shows very well that this is the time when Britain started to look at the EU has it is: a Political and Peace Union at it’s core - not, a Market. You never lost your star, she’s well kept in our hearts. See you soon. A common European citizen.

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