Brexit: British or European?

According to the laws of most countries, one gains one’s nationality from the country of one’s birth, and this is certainly the case in the UK. Anyone born in the UK is accorded British citizenship, irrespective of their parents’ nationality, although this may confer additional citizenship rights. Thus, those born in the UK before 1973, when the UK joined the European Economic Community, held British citizenship. For many, however, that momentous event brought a new sense of citizenship and personal identity: they became Europeans. And many of those born in the UK after 1973 have grown up feeling themselves to be, first and foremost, Europeans. Now with Britain leaving the EU, people must decide where their emotional allegiance lies and for many this presents a painful choice.

For centuries past, Europe has been devastated by wars resulting from the political ambitions of the two great powers: France and Germany. Britain saw its role as maintaining the balance of power, aiding the weaker adversary to prevent continental hegemony. Six years after the defeat of Germany in 1945, France and Germany came together with four other states to form the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the EEC, EC, EU. Once again, there was a role for Britain to play in maintaining a balance of power within Europe, and when the dominance of the German economy became apparent, France withdrew its opposition, and the UK was admitted.

Those in Britain with strong European sentiments now fear that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, will not only be disastrous for the UK economy but threatens economic turmoil for the EU. The overwhelming power of the German economy, exercised through the common currency of the Euro and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, has already threatened the financial independence of several smaller states. Although the UK did not adopt the Euro, it has had a voice in negotiating terms of relief for the endangered smaller economies. Brexit could be followed by other states, first falling out of the Euro, and then leaving the EU.

With the rights of common citizenship conferred by the EU, many British people have bought property and established new lives in the benign environments of countries such as France and Spain. Now with Brexit, those new lives are under threat. None wish to relinquish their EU citizenship with the rights it confers in terms of free movement of persons, possessions and social welfare benefits. And those remaining resident in Britain also sense a loss of citizenship. They fear the diminution of their rights to fair treatment as workers and citizens, hitherto protected by the European Court of Human Rights, as the UK Government rewrites legislation in favour of big business. With their strongly held European identity they face the prospect of becoming emotional aliens in the land of their birth.