Monday, May 19, 2014

An Open Letter to Nigel Farage

Barcelona, 19 May, 2014

Dear Mr. Farage,

I am following your party’s rise in popularity with some disdain, because from what I see and read here (I’m living abroad as one of the millions of British citizens who do so, but we’ll come to that later), I am finding it difficult to associate UKIP policies with a fair and open minded society – in fact I am finding it nigh impossible to understand the function UKIP serves in modern Britain.

Let me explain.
It must be really liberating, fantastical even, for you and your supporters to live in a world where they suppose that crime did not exist in Britain before mass immigration. Immigration from the European Union and other countries around the world has been proven in no uncertain terms to bring massive benefits to Britain, and to its citizens. With many family members and friends who work in the NHS, it is evident everyday that the service could simply not run without workers from outside of our country who dedicate themselves to keeping one of our finest institutions afloat.

As someone born in the USA to an immigrant father from the Commonwealth, and a mother from Kent, who met in London, I am a proud product of a multi-cultural Britain. As well as being a British Citizen, I have been an immigrant myself, moving to the UK aged 11 and residing there for 20 years. The Britain I arrived to in 1993 was very different from the Britain we have now, and I have seen many positive changes as our society has grown, been enriched and been influenced by the movement and exchange of people, ideas, foods, cultures and customs. Sure, there’s tension sometimes. But having lived in one of London’s most diverse boroughs, Lambeth, for nearly 10 years (and during the riots in August 2011), I have witnessed first hand that it is the startling inequality that persists in plaguing people’s lives, and a sense of working increasingly hard for increasingly little gain, that leads to unrest, not someone’s nationality. As if that matters to the people of London, who have and make friends and family from all corners of the globe. 

Let’s move on to your assertion that we should leave the EU in order to be able to control our borders. Last year I moved to Spain to live and work. Even as an EU citizen, I was asked to provide evidence that I could support myself financially and that I had a healthcare package, so as not to immediately use or abuse public services intended for locals. Given the state of the Spanish economy, and the fact that I am still a visitor here, I feel those are fair requests. But I am still delighted that I am able to live and work here, and furthermore that local services benefit me, such as community centres providing subsidised classes (so I can study the language, for example, or exercise, or learn a new skill). When I go back and forth to the UK, my EU citizen status allows me freedom of movement, and I am reassured that if I were travelling more widely in Europe and I fell ill, I would be able to take out my European Health Insurance card, and be cared for, from France to Romania.

Restricting movement for Europeans coming to the UK would go both ways. There is no picking and choosing, particularly if you decide to leave the negotiating table in Brussels altogether.  How on earth would you ensure that the millions of British citizens, who are living, working or retiring in Europe, would retain their benefits and their freedom of movement, rights to own properties, claim pensions, vote, or have a say in their communities? Under your proposals they would cease being citizens of Europe, and for the 1.8 million Britons living in Europe, I suspect this idea will be as hated as it is misinformed.

In your open letter published in The Telegraph today you said of Romania: "When I visited the country I was truly shocked by the living conditions and social exclusion of a large Roma minority. It is difficult to believe that such discrimination still exists in Europe today.” Indeed it does, as you have so aptly shown us by singling out Romanians as your target. There is nothing inclusionary about your ideas, despite being married to a European.

You go on to say that “The other huge problem in Romania has been the growth of organised criminal gangs for whom EU memberships has meant greater opportunities. Under free movement rules there is absolutely nothing the UK authorities can do to stop such people from entering our country. We should not be in a political union with Romania, with an open door to all of their citizens.  We must take back the power to stop criminals from entering our country by taking back control of our borders. The only way to do that is to leave the EU."

Increasingly as I look at what is happening in UK politics I feel a divide, not just between people within the UK (Scotland won’t agree with you, that’s for certain) but also between the UK and Europe that is in danger of becoming ever more pronounced. One day, if your ideals hold water with the people of Britain, I am afraid I will see a small island, floating away from trade, commerce and cultural growth on its own in the North Sea, flanked by neighbours who want nothing to do with its small-mindness and petty crowing about feeling hard-done by. I am afraid I will see a place where people have hardened against those unlike them and meanwhile whilst they were trying to find someone to pin the blame on for their social ills, their society degenerated to a point of no return. 

I see dark hearts, and anger, and no real answers in your policies, Mr. Farage. I see a return to rhetoric to match Powell’s rivers of blood speech, and no hope in the way you view the world, let alone Europe. If the day comes that I won’t be able to move freely in Europe because my UK passport won’t allow it, I’ll see that as the final nail in the coffin for Britain. If, under your watch in a brave new UKIP world, places then became limited to live and work in the UK, I’d withdraw, and someone else could have my spot. 

In fact, I’d gladly give my place to a hardworking Romanian.

Burning Up in Barcelona