At 11.59pm each New Year’s Eve, Britain turns to Big Ben. As it strikes 12, the bells ring out, fireworks light the sky and we welcome the New Year. But on some future date, currently unknown, those bells will herald not the fresh start of a new year, but the dawn of a grim, friendless Brexit future.
At a stroke, the opportunities the EU gives UK nationals to live and work across Europe vanish. I’m a Swedish learner and Brexit throws into massive doubt the ambition I have to live and work in Sweden.
Tough, that’s what you voted for, some may say. But many didn’t. The country is deeply, bitterly divided. 17 million voted Leave, but 16 million voted Remain. 32 million didn’t have a vote, or didn’t use it. But those 17 million voters are taking all 65 million out of the EU nonetheless.
And for many of us, this is a tragedy. To us, being European is as important as being British, perhaps even more so. We identify with the EU. We believe that we’re stronger standing together, not broken up and bickering.
Stuart Bonar. Photo: Private
Some Brits have escape routes. There are reports of big jumps in applications to become Swedes, Danes and Italians. Friends are rediscovering their Irish ancestry, others have already collected new passports from Germany and Cyprus.
But many pro-European Brits – me included – don’t have a foreign grandparent who entitles us to citizenship of another EU country. We face being left stranded here in Brexit Britain, with emboldened xenophobes and racists.
But what I do have is an idea. At the moment, people are EU citizens if they are nationals of an EU country. My idea is that the EU simply uncouples that. It could allow individuals of countries leaving the EU to become European citizens directly, by choice.
You’d have to opt in, be able to prove you’re pro-European, maybe have to pass a citizenship test. It would allow the UK to leave the EU and anti-Europeans to go with it, while letting pro-Europeans stay and keep their freedom of movement.
I put this idea forward in a blog post earlier this month. A few tweets and Facebook posts later and it’s reached over 100,000 people, with 8,700 supporters signing up.
But what’s in it for the rest of Europe? With a big member leaving there’s a risk the EU looks to be in decline, that its 12 stars are setting not rising. What better way to give Europe renewed zip and energy than footage of smiling Brits waving burgundy passports for the TV cameras, like the first Apple customers to get their hands on a new iPhone?
And with British politics turning to the hard right, it will be the young and educated who want out. They were Remain’s strongest backers, and they’re exactly the people the EU wants and needs. They’ll be straight across the Channel, with ambition, energy and creativity bursting out of their Sandqvist backpacks.
So, what do you think? Are you a Brit who needs a lifeline, or a fellow European willing to throw one to us? Then sign up.
Stuart Bonar is a public affairs advisor who lives in London and Devon, England. On Twitter, he's @StuartBonar, and with his partner he runs the Campaign to Remain page on Facebook.