Tonight at midnight (local time) I become a “citizen of nowhere”.
Since the results of the 23rd June 2016 referendum I have been made to feel unwelcome in the country where I was born, and where I have lived most of my life. I was too young to vote in the original referendum in 1975, but I supported Britain’s membership then, and throughout my adult life I have been as proud to be a European as I was proud to be a Yorkshireman, an Englishman, a Briton, and a citizen of the world. I haven’t always agreed with EU policies and decisions, but have always believed that the best way to change things for the better is from within rather than from outside. In 2016, I actively campaigned for Remain in the months leading up to the referendum, growing increasingly more concerned about the people that I spoke with accepting the lies of the Leave campaign, and dismissing any counter-arguments as Project Fear. I was in Amsterdam at the Dutch PHP Conference on the morning when the result was confirmed, and felt obliged to apologise to my audience on behalf of Britain. And overnight, the country that I lived in changed: the illusion that I lived in an accepting and tolerant nation was shattered as the haters and xenophobes saw acceptance for their more extreme views in that referendum result, and that their hatred would now be tolerated.
Over the weeks and months that followed, I lost hope that sanity would prevail, as the incoming Prime Minister (Theresa May) declared those who still wished to remain European as “citizens of nowhere”; and the nationalistic press attacked those who still had hope of remaining European as remoaners and traitors, with the occasional more extreme journalist calling for restoration of the death penalty for those who wouldn’t recant their European leanings; and anybody posting pro-European sentiments on social media was opening themselves to a backlash of abuse and hatred. I found myself being reviled and spat at in the street by people that I had canvassed before the referendum, being told to f*** off to Europe, because Britain didn’t want people like me; but I still took part in the Remain marches and signed the petitions, hoping that the government would pay heed… to no avail, as the government seemed determined to ignore the voices of those who still believed in Europe.
Eighteen months ago, I decided that enough was enough, and that I would leave Britain and move to the EU. The attitudes that I was finding in my own country were something that I couldn’t accept any more. The country that I lived in no longer felt like the country of my birth, the people of Britain no longer felt like the people that I had grown up with and lived among for most of my life. Those extreme Brexiteer voices may or may not have reflected all those who voted to Leave; but they weren’t condemned for their extreme views, and that lack of condemnation made them the vocal majority. Successive Prime Ministers promised to unite the country; but only if Remainers like myself accepted unification by recanting the “heresy” of believing in the European Community. So I looked to move, and found a new home in Amsterdam, and a new job at MessageBird, away from the toxic nationalism of the UK. Here, I have been welcomed and accepted once again.
Midnight tonight marks the end of Britain as a member state of the EU, and it is a moment of great sadness for me. I shall probably sit at home in the dark and cry to myself. I shall no longer be an EU citizen, and (although I still hold a UK passport) I no longer wish to consider myself a British citizen, and associate any more with the destructive nationalism that has become the accepted norm there; so I shall truly become a “citizen of nowhere”. But whatever may happen over the coming months and years, I shall wear my “citizenship of nowhere” as a badge of pride.
So thank you the Netherlands, thank you Amsterdam, and thank you MessageBird for accepting this “citizen of nowhere” and making him realise that he does have a home here.