A few hours ago, a majority of voters decided that the United Kingdom should no longer be part of the European Union.
Inside this majority I probably have a number of friends, and several members of my family.
There are and will be many explanations to this vote which has shocked the entire world. It seems that all the arguments which were presented to the voters explaining why voting the Brexit was a dangerous and wrong route to follow were not heard. There will be consequences for all. I am not the only one in thinking that these are not desirable.
But as this is my blog, let me be selfish and explain why the vote angers me.
I am British. I have been British for the past 54 years of my life.
I suppose I have been an atypical British all along.
My father was Spanish and I landed in France at the ripe age of 54…days old.
I was therefore brought up, educated in France and (much later) have been recruited as a French civil servant as Maître de Conférences and later as Professeur des Universités. For many of my French Colleagues I am as French as they are. But I am not French. I chose to remain British.
Now is as good a time as any to reflect on the reasons of this (non) choice:
- feeling British: Rule Britannia and the rest… not quite. I actually have never understood why such a thing as a « right of birth » gave some people access to an education, a world full of possibilities and some 50 odd extra years of life expectancy;
- laziness: if you are living in a country and are there to stay, the lazy solution is take that nationality, which will -I promise you- make your life far easier. So no;
- an admiration for the past, the culture, the history. Yes. This is certainly important. I feel for Turner, Dylan Thomas, Laurie Lee and so many others. Even if writers from other countries, cinema directors in other languages can be of the greatest importance and have influenced me strongly, the fact that British authors build upon a common culture makes them all the more shareable. I have read Churchill’s memories, believe that Turing is the most important scientist of the 20th century, have been thrilled by British achievements in all domains and, generally speaking, vow a profound admiration for Britain’s past.
- the fact that I didn’t want to choose: we are in Europe, and I owe to my other European backgrounds not to stick to one. I owe it to the friends and family I have outside Britain. When asked where I come from, I am very proud to explain that my father was Spanish, my mother is British (Welsh…) and I live in France, and that this makes me a European. My nationality is just something I got when I was born. I did not choose it. I later did not want to take another because that would make me choose: by becoming French, I would therefore show a preference. The same would be true for the Spanish nationality. I strongly believe that showing a difference is wrong on this matter.
I am European. I truly believe in this concept. Those who have argued against the EU in the past weeks have failed to convince me that they had anything else to offer that the same old nationalism that has inevitably led to war in the past.
I owe equally to Britain, to France, to Spain. And I would love to owe as equally to the other European countries I have had the good fortune of knowing.
Today, the British people have had their referendum and decided to quit. That vote forces me to hold my own referendum in which I alone have to decide between being British or European.