I am a Mum of three young children. I am British. I am scared by the rhetoric of the Leave campaign. Let me tell you why.
I have always been British but I have not always lived in Britain. I was almost three years old when I moved to Britain, having been born in Germany. My father was serving in the British Army and was posted to Germany, hence I was born there. So far so good. This confers on me British citizenship as an automatic right. Kind of. Births such as this have to be registered with the British Consulate, in my case, the British Consulate in Düsseldorf (and I’ve read recently that this needed to be done PDQ otherwise German nationality was conferred on the child, along with all that entails, including National Service for some unfortunates. And this has happened in many countries, not just Germany). I have a birth certificate (quite a fancy looking one, as it goes) from the Consulate, half typed, half written and with the birth year crossed out because the century and decade (195_) were preprinted and clearly there hadn’t been as many births as they had expected, because they were still crossing out and reusing two decades later!
So why does the Leave campaign worry me? Well. It worries me because if the result of this referendum is “Leave”, it will give a boost to the right wingers, the far right racists. Let me clear. I am not suggesting that those people with genuine and legitimate concerns about sustainable migration are far right racists. There are concerns over sustainable migration and they need to be addressed. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those right wingers who would divide us all into “us and them”. Those right wingers who want anyone who is “other” to be cast out from the UK. Those right wingers who want to turf out anyone not born here, or whose parents weren’t born here, or anyone who isn’t white, Christian etc.
If the result is Leave, they will get a little boost. They will feel more confident. They will garner more support, and they will gain more power. It might seem like there’s a mile long gap between a decision to leave the EU and getting rid of all immigrants from our shores, but there isn’t. They are poised to take advantage of every little boost. And it will happen.
And it scares me. It scares me for all those people who live here who weren’t born here, or whose family heritage wasn’t originally based here, or who isn’t a white Christian. Those people who contribute masses to our country, economy and culture. Those people who we need, but who would still be out on their ear if the right wingers got half a chance.
And it scares me for my own sake too. Sure, I am a British Citizen, and always have been. I’ll be fine. Except that it wouldn’t be that easy. The legislation needed to perform their goal would catch many people it didn’t intend to catch (and I hate thinking about this, because I wouldn’t want anyone who has made a life here to be forcefully removed, no matter their “heritage”). It would get sorted eventually, but not without worry and hassle.
When I was at school, my German class went on a trip to Germany. The teacher arranged a group passport, and we all had to get ID cards issued. Mine was the only one that caused a problem. Extra paperwork was needed. I had to prove I was indeed a British Citizen and not German. It was all sorted out, but I felt different. My teacher said, in front of the class, “We can get you in, but we can’t guarantee to get you out”. I still have no idea how much of that was his sense of humour and how much was true. Thirty years later though and I still remember it.
Fast forward to university. In my second year, I took out a student loan (this was the old, old kind, when grants were still available, uni courses were free, and the newly created Student Loan was an option if you found yourself short of funds or wanted a cheap way to finance your summer of travelling). They were only available to British students. A passport or birth certificate was required. I didn’t have a passport at the time, so used my birth certificate. My application came back to the university with a question. Where was my proof that I was entitled to the loan. I was born in Germany and therefore the Student Loan Company of the day wanted proof that I had British citizenship, that I was not German. My birth certificate was not proof enough for them. It took calls to the Home Office. It took a lot of sorting out to get it approved.
And so here we are, talking about who would be allowed in and who would be kicked out. And I find myself wondering what side of the bar I would be put and how long it would take to sort out.
And then today something else happened. I always wear a tichel – a headscarf that completely covers my hair. I’ve discussed my reasons for doing so in previous posts. I’ve been doing this for several years now and rarely get a second glance from people, except when someone says how great they think it looks or asks if it’s easy to do (it is!). Today however, I have been openly stared at in my home town. By men. By women. By the young and the old. I have had racial slurs screamed at me from the pavement, and openly hostile looks at my son’s swimming class.
And so it begins. I am white. My husband is white, my children are white. We are all British citizens by birth and still, already, the hate has started. I can only imagine how awful it will become for others who, according to this mentality, have something that marks them out – their skin colour, religion, mother tongue, style of dress….
We cannot sit back and let this happen.