Nation states are back for the children of the post-Brexit era
Expecting my first child at the beginning of December, I will give birth to what some might call a “Brexit baby”. That’s not a baby conceived or born on the day of the vote, even less a supporter of Brexit, but a baby born in the new era we are in — the return of the nation state. Born in 1985, I was a “post-Cold War baby”, or an “End-of-History baby”. This narrative may have worked for a while but the cycle is coming to an end. And if we needed further proof, we have the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, although I wouldn’t like to think of my little girl as a “Trump baby”.
In her case, nation states are already here: I am French, my husband is German, and she will be born in London. She will be French and German, and in ten years, if the rules remain the same, she can become British (or sooner if I myself become British). But will the rules remain the same? That nation states are back can mean two things: that it will be more difficult to travel, exchange goods, and gain different citizenships; or that openness will still prevail but that it won’t be so easily granted, either because rules will be more diverse in each country and change more often, or because people will have to show that they deserve this openness. The choice will not be so much between a “hard” and a “soft” Brexit but between a closed and an open nationalism.
I find it a privilege to own several citizenships — much more than having an all-encompassing one, such as the European one. Each citizenship embodies a unique tradition and history, and includes you in a special community. Each reminds you that people have always been diverse and will continue to be so. Not surprisingly, people from EU members rarely say they are “Europeans” when asked about their origins: they are first and foremost citizens of their countries. That is why, even if I often disagree with Theresa May about immigration — I find her much too cautious about the need for attracting highly-qualified people to the UK, when it has been a fundamental element of British economic success — I share her suspicion of the “citizen of the world” idea.
I just hope that the foreigners who love this country as I do, and their children born here, will remain welcome to stay and to become British. Reality is complex: some people living in Britain love this country for its uniqueness, others love it because they see in it a kind of cultural melting-pot. But being suspicious of the latter does not imply dismissing the former. Perhaps Mrs May should understand that one can be, if not a citizen of the world, a patriot of more than one country.