Would you believe me if I told you I took this picture in the EU? If the palm trees, sunny sky and exotic costumes are making you think that the location of this picture is somewhere tropical-you would be right. However, this particular photo was actually taken in France- more specifically, in the gorgeous French overseas department of Martinique, in the Caribbean.
In 2007-2008 I was lucky enough to be selected for the British Council’s Language Assistants programme, and I was given a placement in the French outre-mer, just as I’d asked. Not only did it give me a chance to work on my French, this year in Guadeloupe (I was just visiting Martinique for the carnival) got me started in my teaching career, and enabled me to meet a lot of really interesting people with backgrounds very different from my own. I am still good friends, 8 years on, with an Irish assistant I met there- and she’s gone on to become a politician back home in Ireland.
And because Maria and I were EU citizens, neither of us had to worry about cartes de séjour or other complicated and expensive bureaucratic arrangements, unlike our American and Canadian friends. We were able to just book our flights and move to the Caribbean for work, language learning and defining life experiences- it was really that simple.
When I left Guadeloupe and moved to London, I knew I wasn’t done with travelling. In fact, a quick tally of travelling in my 20s has just shown me that in that decade I visited 23 countries, of which 16 were EU nations, and in my lifetime, I’ve been to around 35 countries- the vast majority of which have also been EU members. One of my favourite memories of all, though, was Interrailing at the age of 23 with 2 of my brothers and a friend – carelessly hopping on trains, heading for the destination we most fancied next on the map, and feeling like the whole of Europe was our oyster. And it was. Yet according to Education Secretary (and my local MP) Nicky Morgan, rites of passage such as our carefree trip will be jeopardised if Brexit becomes a reality.
Then just last week, I spotted this sign in Loughborough town centre (look at that pointing finger on the right- I’d like to think it’s saying j’accuse). When I saw the Brexit campaigners, I have to admit that my heart sank, and that I may have thrown them a dirty look as I hurried past. Of course, they have the right to campaign. But I couldn’t help but think when I saw their massive sign that people like you want to break my family up. And why did I think that? Well, my partner is Spanish. He came the UK, like thousands of others, for one thing: he wanted to work, and he wanted to contribute. And he does contribute: he’s a university lecturer, educating the next generation and preparing them for work. If we go on to have a family, as we hope to, what will our situation be if Britain votes to leave the EU?
And of course, immigration isn’t a one-way street. In fact, the majority of European immigrants aren’t Romanian or Polish (two nationalities which seem to receive a lot of negative attention in the UK): they’re actually British nationals. The British government estimates that around 800,000 Brits live in Spain alone, and The Guardian also reports that British nationals claim more in benefits in wealthy EU nations than their citizens do in the UK.
While the polls change daily, it seems that the Remain campaign has the advantage- by a hair. And although I’m going to be out of the country on June 23rd (I’ll be enjoying a week in Italy), I’ve already asked for my postal vote. I’m definitely voting to Remain.