Returning in the Spring from Japan, a nation struggling to come to terms with its imperial past, I was shocked at the rise of unabashed imperial nostalgia in the UK. The Empire appeared to be striking back and had found an audience with affluent Asians and other post-colonial minorities alienated by perceived favouritism shown to white European migrants. Indeed, a post-colonial argument could be made for the Brexit. Britain’s continued membership of the EU, it could be argued, strengthens its ‘European’ white Christian identity at the expense of its multicultural, post-imperial past. A closer examination of that past, would reveal that the wounds inflicted by centuries of colonial exploitation and racism have not yet healed and are obscured by successive waves of migrants from eastern Europe. Taking the country back, meant reasserting the primacy of the colonial bond to British identity. Allied with the Marxist argument that the EU, which had its roots in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, foisted a capitalist, supranational institutional architecture on the continent which effectively made ‘socialism in one country’ impossible, a powerful case could be made for Brexit as a ‘progressive’ act.
What is lacking in such an analysis is the very violence which the Brexit inflicted upon those European nationals who have chosen to make the UK their home. Most contribute to society by paying taxes and providing services which British nationals are either unwilling or unable to provide. Many came not explicitly to find work but to study, then settled and have come to call the UK home. One such European national is my mother who has lived in the UK years for half a century. Like my father, a naturalized British citizen of South Asian origin, she never felt British (although she feels more British than my father does), but is attached to her family, her community and her adopted city. Why should she naturalize? If the nation is an imagined community as Benedict Anderson has argued, why place limits on our imagination? Sovereignty cannot be taken back as the nation was never sovereign.
In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.