Daniel Finkelstein writes in The Times about why he won’t be joining the rush for dual nationality (£) among those Britons who fear for their country’s future. Like me, he is the son of a refugee from the Nazis and perhaps this explains why he is able to define clearly, while not sharing them, the motivations of those – like me – who are exercising their right to another nationality:
“Their application is a sort of protest against Brexit and an insurance policy in case Brexit presages a less tolerant Britain or a calamitously poor one. And there are also some Jews who worry about a Corbyn government.”
He recalls in his childhood reading with his mother about the kings and queens of England:
“Only as an adult have I reflected that when the Tudor monarchs reigned, or even the Georgians, my family wasn’t here. We lived under distant emperors. But still, I reflect, we chose these great Britons and they chose us. Their countrymen gave us a home and our liberty and peace. And I’m never going to be part of something else.”
I can certainly relate to this sentiment. My father recalls his arrival at Dover in 1939 when he was eleven years old and had escaped with his parents from Czechoslovakia after it was occupied by the Nazis:
“There were no inquisitions into whether we had any rights to be entering Britain, or the type of unwelcoming unpleasantness present-day refugees and immigrants have to experience. There was no waiting about while officials decided whether we were to be allowed to enter the country. Quite simply: we were welcomed and that was that, and we were very, very grateful to be in England.”
That gratitude to the UK has stuck with him to this day and certainly informs my own attachment to this country.
But I don’t see anything wrong with being part of something else. My family heritage is more diverse than Daniel Finkelstein’s and perhaps his clear sense of belonging to the Jewish community helps him feel more rooted in the UK. Me, I have multiple affinities and see myself as belonging less to any one of them than to a broad secular European tradition. Theresa May’s “citizens of nowhere“ speech was sufficient in itself to motivate me to exercise my right to dual nationality. Retaining European citizenship is more than a hedge against catastrophe in the UK, it is a positive expression of my complex inheritance.
I am proud to hold an Irish passport as well as a UK one. Ireland is no stranger to the darkest reaches of political conflict. But it has transformed itself from a clerically dominated backwater to become a beacon in deliberative democracy. This coincides with Britain’s submergence beneath Scottish and English nationalisms and its descent into a constitutional chaos that belies its reputation for democratic pragmatism. We could yet see a way through the crisis ahead. But it’s hard to see how.
When Britain is turning inwards, there’s a risk that our culture and our thinking could become hidebound and parochial. We need diversity of perspectives to find solutions to the challenges we face. Multiple affinities are a reality for many people. Britain and Ireland were pioneers in recognising and accommodating this with respect to Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement (one of the very factors that is making Brexit such a difficult conundrum). Those of us who look to horizons elsewhere can keep open a channel to external influences. Better to capitalise on these than frown on divided loyalties.