On Monday I went to the One Day Without Us protest in Manchester, organised alongside many other similar events around Britain, to offer some sort of solidarity to people who currently find their future in Britain uncertain following Brexit. We like to call such people migrants but they are yes, people like you and me.
I’m not a veteran protestor (I find myself embarrassed by my own chanting!) but I hate the demonization of migrant people and the sanctimonious we-were-born-here verbosity of privilege that has for some become the post-Brexit currency of UK citizenship.
When I was growing up in Lincolnshire the closest thing we had to a migrant was me, I came from Lancashire. I can understand how easy it is to fear and blame the migrant, with their strange Lancastrian accent, and propensity to clog dance, but as the old (immigrant) proverb from the film Strictly Ballroom goes “A life lived in fear, is a life half lived”.
If Britain signs up for the Brexit-at-any cost exit it is currently heading towards we can safely say that a fear of migrants will have taken Britain into a half-life experience. It will be like living in a street where all the other neighbours are organising a party to which we will never be properly invited. As they say in Lancashire, ‘don’t cut off tha nose to spite tha face’.
I’ve never really taken advantage of the European party. I’ve lived in Britain my whole life. For many years I hardly left Wales. I love it here. But that love comes in part from a safe place knowing that we are part of something bigger, a continent-wide family of nations bound by meetings.
In Britain we have had one vote on Europe, to leave the institution called the EU. We didn’t have a vote to leave the single market. We didn’t vote to stop freedom of travel. We didn’t vote for Theresa May’s government. The Conservatives didn’t even vote for Theresa May’s leadership.
There is no democratic mandate for what is happening right now and yet it will determine the national psyche, probably at least until I’m nearing retirement. Not being able to vote again on all these fundamentally important issues will create unhealable division and a national trauma (not just the 48% of us who confidently and without fear voted remain, but those of the 52% who didn’t think they were voting for all this other stuff and will slowly start to hate their own decision).
So now is the time to say something. To stick up for ourselves, our democracy and our values, and for refugees, EU workers living here, friends and neighbours who come here to study or work, or just to be with us. We need you and we want you to be part of our lives. If one single friend has to leave Britain because of our decision to leave the EU I will be as mad as hell! So I’m practicing my chanting. No room for embarrassment any more.
‘No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here’
‘No, hate, no fear, EU migrants welcome here’
‘No hate, no fear, all migrants welcome here’
‘No hate, no fear, we are all migrants here’.