Brexit Opposition And The Quiet Death Of Citizenship

It is difficult to have a serious conversation about citizenship in the Age of Brexit when so many people hold a such transactional, materialistic and reductionist definition of the concept as meaning little more than benefits received in exchange for taxes paid

One interesting and overlooked aspect of the Brexit debate is the extent to which the basic concept of citizenship has decayed and virtually evaporated from our public discourse, right under our noses, with barely any note of alarm being sounded in the process.

This decay reveals itself in manifold ways, from the furious pushback one inevitably receives when pointing out the obvious fact that citizens should (and do) have more rights than non-citizens to the outraged, moralising vitriol hurled at anybody who dares to suggest that illegal immigrants are technically lawbreakers and therefore maybe not universally worthy of respect, sympathy or amnesty.

These are now controversial positions to hold. To be steadfast in the belief that British citizenship confers more rights than those held by permanent residents or temporary visitors is to mark oneself out as something of an extremist, at least as far as the media and chattering classes are concerned. Yet many politicians in Britain and America who now wrap themselves in the mantle of conspicuous compassion for all illegal immigrants and effectively agitate for open borders could themselves not so long ago be found calling for tougher immigration enforcement.

This applies to the likes of Hillary Clinton in America, who once supported and voted for the same strengthening of the United States’ southern border which she now denounces as being tantamount to racism. Of course, Clinton has since positioned herself as a tireless champion of the “undocumented”, together with virtually all of the American Left. Similarly in Britain, many commentators who once dared to express reservations about uncontrolled immigration from within the EU have now taken up rhetorical arms against anybody who proposes a more rigorous immigration policy.

In both countries, but particularly in Britain, citizenship is increasingly regarded (to the extent that people think of it at all) as a transactional affair, services rendered for taxes paid – or even rendered with no reciprocity at all in the case of the modern welfare state. The argument goes that by the sole virtue of paying taxes or drawing benefits here one deserves a full voice in the country’s affairs, even if one is a non-citizen or is present in the country illegally.

This very transactional approach has frayed the contract or bond between citizen/resident and the state. Of course, people still expect the state to protect them from foreign foes, guard against domestic security threats, provide healthcare, offer a welfare safety net and distribute various domestic and EU services. But even as they make these demands they offer rapidly diminishing loyalty to the state in which they live. People are increasingly insatiable for the benefits while being less and less willing to accept the responsibility.

This responsibility goes much deeper than just paying one’s taxes. It means making a serious commitment to community and, ideally, the enthusiastic acceptance of and assimilation into one’s home (or adopted) culture. Traditionally, the sign that an immigrant was willing to accept these broader responsibilities was their decision to apply for naturalisation as a citizen. Historically, if an immigrant were to build a life in another country, working and raising a family there, they would ultimately become a citizen of that country in most cases.

But today, many people demand the perks without accepting the responsibilities – hence the outrage of and on behalf of EU citizens who have built permanent or semi-permanent lives here yet refuse to see why they should formalise that commitment through the naturalisation process (or at least the acquisition of permanent residency following Brexit). They forget that the European Union is an aberration, that nowhere else in the developed world would countries offer so much while asking for virtually nothing in return.

Yet to point this out is to invite accusations of callousness and amorality. Of course there are exceptional cases where joint citizenship cannot be taken or some other bureaucratic or financial obstacle stands in the way of an EU migrant formalising their commitment to the United Kingdom. Such cases should be treated generously, with the aim of reducing any uncertainty for the migrants involved.

But this blog has very little sympathy when people demand something for nothing. Freedom of movement and other EU benefits are political entitlements. They are not – repeat, NOT – fundamental, inalienable rights.

A fundamental right is intrinsic to one’s humanity, as applicable to somebody in China, Russia, North Korea or Venezuela as to someone living in Britain. These are best summed up in the US Declaration of Independence as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, though one can also drill down a level further and acknowledge the universal human right to property, due process under law and so on. Fundamental rights are inherent; political entitlements are nice-to-haves, often given (in the EU’s case) partly as a means of securing support for a dubious political project which would otherwise be utterly unloved.

Of course we should have a degree of natural sympathy for anybody at risk of losing their current political entitlement to live and work in the United Kingdom without going through the arduous and expensive process of applying for permanent residency or citizenship – though a deal between Britain and the EU to secure reciprocal ongoing rights for UK and EU citizens is all but inevitable. Personally, I would offer expedited indefinite leave to remain to all current EU migrants at a greatly reduced fee. But others’ rights as EU migrants do not trump the sacrosanct (though not quite exclusive) right of British citizens to participate in our democracy and determine the course of the country.

The decision of the British people to secede from the European Union can not and must not be vetoed by or on behalf of people who refuse to assume the responsibilities and privileges of full citizenship. That such an obvious statement now sounds harsh or controversial is itself an indicator of how deeply corroded and devalued the concept of citizenship has become in our society. Yet this would have been the mainstream view in Britain a decade or more ago, and still very much is the accepted wisdom nearly everywhere else in the world.

Many Brexiteers – myself among them – did not spend 2016 tirelessly campaigning for Brexit because they hate immigrants, want to kick out existing migrants or even significantly lower net migration. But neither will we allow the protestations of those who refuse to share the commitment and mutual connection of citizenship with us to overshadow or overrule our vote.

This is not extreme, nor is it unreasonable. It is merely the consequence of adhering to the same traditional definition of citizenship which allows us to flourish as a society precisely because we are all bound to one another by something deeper than momentary convenience.

It remains to be hoped that Brexit will spark a renewed discussion about citizenship and the proper relationship between citizen, resident and government – indeed there are some early encouraging signs that such conversations are starting to take place.

But the furious reaction of the establishment Left to political developments both in Britain and America suggests that defenders of the concept of citizenship will be starting at a considerable disadvantage.

 

A British citizenship certificate is seen in London

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Okay, Let’s Talk About Patriotism

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David Cameron thinks that Britain owes its limited greatness to the coiffured prancing of One Direction. This is a man who doesn’t know how to begin thinking like a patriot because he doesn’t appreciate the first thing about what makes Britain truly great

David Cameron spent much of his 20-minute grilling in last night’s damp squib of a television “debate” with Nigel Farage waffling on in the vaguest possible terms about patriotism.

Specifically, the prime minister wheeled out almost the identical meaningless phrases that he always uses when he finds himself scrambling to recover his footing – like when he failed to win an outright parliamentary majority in 2010, and when faced with worrying poll numbers in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

He then advanced the rather surprising argument that the way in which we might best show our patriotism and love of country is to vote for its continued subsummation into that giant self-help group for countries who have lost their mojo known as the European Union.

The Daily Mail summarises Cameron’s basic pitch:

The Prime Minister acknowledged that sometimes the EU “can drive me mad, it is a bureaucracy, it is frustrating” but “walking away, quitting, would reduce our national influence, would reduce our economy, would reduce our say in the world and as a result would damage our country”.

He told the audience: “You hear a lot of talk about patriotism in this referendum. As far as I’m concerned I love this country with a passion, I think we are an amazing country and I say if you love your country then you don’t damage its economy, you don’t restrict opportunities for young people, you don’t actually isolate your country and reduce its influence in the world.”

Warning that Brexit could lead to Scotland separating from the UK he said: “You don’t strengthen your country by leading to its break-up. So I’m deeply patriotic, but I think this is a case for a bigger, greater Britain inside a European Union.”

Urging voters to think of the next generation he said: “I hope that when people go to vote on June 23 they think about their children and grandchildren, they think about the jobs and the opportunities they want for them, the sort of country we want to build together and they vote to say ‘we don’t want the little England of Nigel Farage’, we want to be Great Britain and we are great if we stay in these organisations and fight for the values we believe in.”

He added: “Leaving is quitting and I don’t think Britain, I don’t think we are quitters, I think we are fighters. We fight in these organisations for what we think is right.”

This blog’s response to being labelled a “quitter” for wanting to leave the European Union is here.

Meanwhile, Tony Edwards of The Brexit Door blog picks up on the cognitive dissonance which must necessarily be involved in thinking that fearfully remaining in a stultifying regional political union rather than engaging with the world in the same way as every other advanced country on the planet outside of Europe is somehow the “patriotic” thing to do.

Edwards writes:

The Prime Minister is losing the debate on the EU – and so yesterday (7th June) he missed the funeral of Cecil Parkinson to attend a hurriedly arranged press conference in the run up to his appearance with Nigel Farage on ITV.

It’s not the first time we have heard this rather fatuous appeal to patriotism, this form of words first appeared late last week, but it is the polling that has driven this level of rather empty rhetoric. If you leave the EU, he says, you are a “Quitter” who doesn’t “love the UK”.

This was always the inevitable end for this campaign, this descent into pure nonsense. The trigger for the press conference was no doubt a mixture of things – the polling across the weekend, the Newsnight programme on Monday, and the recent articles in the Telegraph by both Allister Heath and Ambrose Evans Pritchard which have been very optimistic on the EEA/EFTA route out of the EU. This has been allied with the reporting of the BBC that civil servants are already planning for Brexit via this route, something that the Prime Minister has often denied, but we have heard talk of since the beginning of the year.

While there is an honourable and intellectually coherent case made for staying in the European Union and deepening our commitment to join the EU in its ultimate journey toward common statehood, this is not a debate which is ever heard in Britain. Most of our politicians, recognising that publicly suggesting that Britain join France and Germany on their long-established path to common statehood would go down like a bucket of cold sick, are unsurprisingly reticent to talk about the EU in these terms.

And so in Britain those who wish us to Remain in the EU argue from a purely fear-based economic perspective, which makes the sudden attempt to portray this as the “patriotic” choice sound especially contrived false, as Tony points out:

On the pro EU side, there is an honourable argument to be made for travel towards a single European state. On the mainland, this is a debate that actually breaks into the open. Many on the continent wish for an EU that is totally federal, and challenges the USA as the world’s leading business superpower. Some wish it to have a similar military strength, and others wish to see the elevation of large block political entities as a step towards a ‘Star Trek’ ideal of a single world government. All of these are laudable aims, but they have never been expressed in the UK debate by those who wish to remain in the EU. The argument here is always about trade, economics and migration – the short term issues.

And Tony’s brilliant conclusion:

Democracy has hardly had a word uttered about it in this debate. The EU is the beginning of the end of the rather short democratic experiment in Western Europe. For most of us, full suffrage is just less than a century old – the first truly democratic election general election in the UK was in 1929, an election which returned Ramsey MacDonald to power as the first Labour PM of a functioning Labour government. By 1961, our politicians were already looking to remove the power of the people by exporting it to the newly formed EEC, fully aware that its design was for a technocratic Europe rather than a democratic one.

So the experiment in the UK lasted no more than 32 years before politicians tried to unravel it. That is something that bears serious thought. Do we prise democracy above all else, or do we simply want a life in which the big questions are not asked of us as a people, so we are left untroubled by them?

That is the real issue at stake in this referendum, and judging by many of the responses I have seen, especially from younger people, there is a lack of willingness to engage with the deeper issues, something mirrored by the political class which plays only to the gallery.

Precisely so. The deeper question facing us is do we even want to be informed and engaged citizens any more? Are we willing to educate ourselves as to the issues, participate in our democracy and bear our share of responsibility for the resulting triumphs, disasters and (more usually) bland stalemates? Or are we happier being passive consumers of goods and public services, occasionally bleating our outrage when we don’t get what we want but otherwise content for others to do the dull work of running the country (or continent) while we devote ourselves to watching re-runs of Britain’s Animals Got Strictly Come Bake-Off On Ice?

Citizens or consumers? That is the deeper choice facing us in this EU referendum debate. Are we willing to put in the work which comes with being the former in exchange for the reward of greater control over our lives, or are we willing to wave away the responsibility in the hope that doing so keeps mortgage rates and the price of Chinese flat-screen TVs that little bit lower?

So how would a patriot act? I think it is now clear which side represents the strivers and which side the quitters. In any case, one can normally take a good cue from the words and deeds of those currently in power, and David Cameron sets a shining example for us all.

The lesson for would-be patriots, therefore, is this: speak and behave in the polar opposite manner to David “don’t be a quitter” Cameron and you won’t go far wrong.

 

David Cameron – a prime minister whose esteem and ambition for his own country is so pathetically small that when given an open-goal to sell Britain’s evident greatness to the world he fell back on delivering a weak impression of Hugh Grant in the film “Love Actually”:

 

David Cameron Patriotism

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Self-Entitled Young People For Remain

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The EU’s young cheerleaders have lots to say about their own material self-interest, but fall strangely silent when it comes to democracy

After Abi Wilkinson’s petulant complaint that Leave campaigners attempting to restore British democracy are harming the job prospects of the young, we now have another youthful but clueless voice making the same case.

Presenting Richard Godwin in the Evening Standard:

I just feel European. I’m part of a generation that has had easy access to mainland Europe for both work and play.

I like Penélope Cruz and Daft Punk and tiki-taka and Ingmar Bergman and spaghetti and absinthe and saunas and affordable trains.

As sentimental as it sounds, Europe represents opportunity, cosmopolitanism, modernity, romance, enrichment, adventure to me

Cutting all that off — even symbolically — would feel both spiteful and arbitrary.

Quite why leaving the explicitly political construct of the European Union would mean that Richard Godwin is no longer part of the continent of Penelope Cruz and Daft Punk is never explained – because of course, it wouldn’t. We would be cutting off nothing, symbolically or otherwise, aside from the dead weight of a supranational political organisation which suppresses democracy in a misguided attempt to harmonise 28 distinct European countries into a single, new European state.

But then at least Godwin has the decency to admit that he is being driven primarily by instinct, unlike the hapless Abi Wilkinson who seemed to suggest that the pro-europeanism of the young is based on enlightened consideration while the pro-democracy euroscepticism of older generations is based on selfishness and whimsy (when of course youthful pro-europeanism is almost entirely the product of ignorance and selfishness).

Sadly, this does not stop Godwin from lecturing us about how young people – my generation – have a greater stake in the future:

It should go without saying that the young have more stake in the future but it’s also contrary to electoral logic. Only 34 per cent of over-65s are in favour of remaining, there are more of them, and they’re more likely to vote.

It means that young people end up in a death spiral, defeated by their own disillusionment. But my hunch is that the only way to change that is with an appeal to hearts rather than heads. Shouldn’t we always aspire to act together rather than alone?

Apparently Godwin’s only concern for the future is that he has the maximum chance of living in a big house with lots of shiny consumer goods to distract him from the fact that he no longer lives in a democracy, has no influence over the decisions which affect his life and has no way of removing the people who make all the key decisions.

In other words, Richard Godwin, like Abi Wilkinson, is thinking primarily as a consumer. Material considerations (job, house, iPhones) consume his every thought – at no point in his paean to the European Union did he even mention democracy or self-determination, or acknowledge any of the many and growing flaws in the EU’s governance.

And of course despite the scaremongering of the Remain campaign, there is no evidence to suggest that Britain would face economic ruin by leaving the EU – and every reason to believe that staying in the EU only perpetuates a discredited, anachronistic model of regional protectionism rather than the global regulation and removal of non-tariff trade barriers that are really needed to unleash global trade and unleash real prosperity.

But Godwin wouldn’t know about any of that, because he is too busy eating spaghetti, watching Penelope Cruz movies and congratulating himself for being such an enlightened, post-national, European citizen. He doesn’t care about the history, traditions or culture of the country which gave him life and liberty – or if he does, they are very much secondary thoughts compared to the ignorant and false assumption that he will no longer be able to work and play in Europe if we become an independent, self-governing country again.

Apparently Richard Godwin is happy to behave and be seen as a selfish consumer first and foremost, rather than an engaged citizen whose thoughts extend beyond his own narrow interest. And that’s actually fine. I hope that more Richard Godwins and Abi Wilkinsons come crawling out of the woodwork as this EU referendum campaign goes on.

Because every new spoilt millennial who comes blinking from their parents’ basement to complain that the evil Leave campaign is threatening their gilded future serves to prove that this campaign is about principled citizenship versus naked self interest.

Very few people are covering themselves in glory in this EU referendum campaign. But the European Union’s youthful cheerleaders from Generation Me Me Me are clearly intent on doing everything they can to make young people look as bad as possible.

 

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