It was the standard government bad news envelope – « Republique Française » stamped high up in the left hand corner and my name and address visible through the small cellophane window – the kind of envelope that never brings any tidings of joy, just tax demands or parking fines. I’ll open it later.
The envelope got progressively buried under a pile of magazines, junk mail until I finally retrieved it and opened it and read the letter inside and shouted OMG, nice and loud so the Almighty himself might hear because I am French – I mean literally, I am French – It says it here in the letter – I have just been awarded French nationality, I have been French since July 1st, a whole week the envelope lay there and … that’s one whole week I’ve been French and I didn’t know.
I’m not sure now if I have dual nationality or two nationalities or I am French in France and British in the UK – I’m going to have two passports, at lets I will apply for a French passport and when I renew my Britsh passport I just won’t bother telling anyone that I have a French one.
I’m not sure either if this makes me Anglo-French or Franco-British. Am I now two different people at the same time, or just half and half ?
It all started roughly eighteen months ago – whilst Britain was in the throes of a rather accrimonious referendum campaign – to brexit or not Brexit ? That was the question. For many it was just a formilaty, a forgone conclusion. Of course Brits would vote to remain in the European Union – it would be madness to leave, but just in case the tide went against the prédictions of the pundits, I decided it would be wise to have some kind of insurance policy, so I applied for French nationality.
I’ve lived and worked in France for 26 years – I’m a fully paid up member of French society, but I’d always clung on to my British nationality, despite feeling more French than British over the years . I work as a civil servant – normally a status reserved for French nationals, but since the enactment of the 1992 Maastricht treaty, all EU citizens have been able to work in the French civil service – then on June 24th THUD – SHOCK – DISBELIEF – the Brits voted for Brexit and by doing so voted to rip all those treaties and agreements to which they had been signatories – those precise and precious papers that guaranteed my job security – faced with the prospect of being « stateless » – like many Brits living in France ; I applied for French nationality. Now I am French, I have a job and a future in the land I call home. Whatever the fate reserved for UK nationals living as ex-pats in the European Union, I at least won’t be sharing it. Yes, it was a question of survival, but after so long living here I guess the time had also come to take the plunge.
Yes, I am happy to have French nationality, but joy is tinged with anger agaisnt the 1.7 million or so Brits who tipped that balance in favour of Brexit. I can’t say there is a standard Brexit voter, they seem to be a hotch potch of elderly people, white working class and bunch of misguided nationalists believing that Brexit will make Britain GREAT again. I suose in the thirty or so years between the end of World War Two and the oil crisis of the early 70’s there was a notion of « greatness », though I would be more prone to call it a misconception born from the fact that Britain emerged victorious from World War Two and until the 1970’s enjoyed relative prosperity, as did France. Yet in their Empiric and Waterloo like mindset, the Brits always thought they could go it alone, until evrything came crashing down in the mid to late seventies.
I am mistrustful of all these Brexiteers who trade in terms of « Greatness » and « Freedom » and the idea that now the UK is leaving Europe, the nation will be free to determin its own destiny and make its own laws. Was living within the EU so bad ? But now that the UK is « free » and is all set to be « great » again, towards which historical model will the pro Brexiteers look ? How Churchillian, Cromwellian, or Victorian will the Brave New Britian be ?
I’ve rambled on a length about Brexit – misguided musings with the occasional pertinent pointer, but I have never spoken about the « Norman Yoke » – nothing to do with eggs from Normandy- Let’s take a trip back into the dim, distant, but still very relevant past – The English Civil war, or what some historians such as the late (great) Christopher Hill, referred tas The English Revolution. In its entirety, the war lasted from 1642 to 1651 – I know that Charles 1st was beheaded on January 1st 1649, but it took Cromwell’s parliamentarian « roundhead » forces another two years to « mop up » the last Royalists in England and Scotland. Charles 1st may have been no more, but his son – the future Charles II carried on the campaign against Cromwel’s forces with the help of the Scots – historians refer to this period as the Third Engish Civil War – has this anything to do with Brexit ? Of course – apart from the various political and religious causes of the English Civil War (or Revolution), there was also a considérable part of the Parliamentarian forces who were fight for Freedom for all Englishmen – There were factions in the anti-royalist forces who blievedthey were liberating England from The Norman Yoke – yoke being that large wooden « harness » hung around the neck of bulls or horses to pull a plough – these « true Englishmen » believed that there ad been no such thing as true English liberty since 1066, when William of Normandy won the battle of Hastings and the last true Saxon (English) king, Harold 1st was slain (hit by an arrow in the eye so legend goes) – from 1066 onwards Kings of England were no more than French usurpers and al those wars with France wewre no more han family feuds where good English blood was spillt to settle the diferenecs of accrimonious French cousins. The rise of the Puritans and their staunch anti catholicism is also the story of the rise of the first English nationalism – both go hand-in-hand. Though England had become a protestant country over a century before the start of the English Civil War, there was still mistrust of the Church and the monarchy for supposed catholic sympathies. Charles 1st had a French (and therefore catholic wife) – Queen Henrietta Maria – she had a Catholic Chapel built in her private résidence at Greenwich and Charles 1st was suspected of having convertde secretly to Catholicism. The Norman Yoke was all this, the idea that around 1642 all true Englishmen had been living under foreign political and religious domination for nearly 600 years – with the exécution of Charles 1st and the declaraion of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, all Englshmen were finally free – I think this is somewhere within the mindset of pro Brexiteers – Britain is free once more. This might all seem flippant or even futile as an argument, but somewhere we are still in the mid 17th century mindset, there are still Cromwellian dinosaurs out there.
The current conservative government is kept in power by a minority protestant party from Northern Ireland – The Democraitc Unionist party (DUP-) – founded in the early 1970’s by the late Reverened Ian Paisley, they were no more and no less a radical regional party set up in Northern Ireland to (as they saw it) protect Protestants and above all to protect and maintain the union between Ulster and Great Britain – hence Unionist – as opposed to Republicans who sought a United Ireland. The DUP (in my opinion) are a 400 year old throwback to Cromwell. They are the modern incarnation of « The Norman Yoke », and they are currently maintaining Theresa May in power. This is not good for Britain, and convinces me that any Brexit will be negotiated in a mindset of misguided nostalgia, a harking back to a time when … I keep thinking that our Brave new Britan will be like some kind of Beatrix Potter thème park – a rural idyll where the peasants are free to sit round drinking ale and … It’s a nightmare.
Parting thought – the UK conservative government are trying to negotiate (what I hope will be) a common sensé Brexit. They are maitained in power by a manipulative minority party (the DUP) with a credo that is a throwback to seventeenth century Britain. They were founded by a venemous Victorian vicar caled the révérend Ian Paisley, who one qualified the European Union as « a manifestation of the anti christ. » If the Queen does finally pop her clogs, then Brexit will happen under the reign of the future heir apparent – Charles III – sorry have we just gone back 400 years.
Hey I am happy to be French and living in a republic. I think what Britan needs now is Charles De Gaulle.