The United Kingdom is my adopted country. I took some time to decide on adopting the UK after living in it for a while and shaping an informed opinion. It was instant attraction when I first visited the UK back in April 1995, and then when I found myself visiting on work, the affection deepened. After relocating to London in 1998 from Singapore, the attraction turned to love. The birth of my daughter in August 2006 sealed my decision to naturalize. My wife and I had applied for citizenship in July 2006 and we were told by the Home Office that the process would take eight months at the outside.
On August 23 2006, two days after Daya was born, I came home to pick up some stuff for my wife. I was absolutely surprised to see two letters – one to my wife and one to me – from the Home Office telling us our applications had been approved and we could appear for the citizenship ceremony as soon as convenient. That this should happen so soon after my little girl was born seemed like a portent from heaven. It also solved the problem of what nationality my daughter would possess at the time of birth. We picked September 4 2006, just a couple of weeks after we brought Daya home.
The ceremony was presided over by the head of Westminster Council – who looked a bit like the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine – thus making the ceremony look slightly ridiculous. It was a small, amphitheatre and we were sat up on the right hand side. I was caught up in the process and I failed to see that my wife had tears in her eyes when the time came to take the oath of loyalty to the Queen. “This is such a big step, I am Indian”, she sobbed. I waited, and then she said “But I love this country as much as my own, and it is where my daughter was born…it’s ok, I’ll do it.”. She wiped her tears and raised her right hand.
Around me, in the Council Room at the Westminster City Council, were an eclectic bunch of Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Brazilians and even a few Americans. The speech was anodyne but the enthusiasm on the faces of those present was anything but. There was no sense of entering a new world, like one of the American citizenship ceremonies. This was not a new beginning, it was a new commitment. Was Britain now the new world? Ten years before, a young Prime Minister had talked of a Cool Britannia (to echo Rule Britannia). This was the Britain everyone had in mind as they raised their hands in solemn fashion. Smiles broke out when the oath was done, and to complete the inane part of the ritual, the Fat Controller handed out nice whisky glasses with the City Of Westminster logo to all new citizens. I still quaff Lagavulin in mine.
My one warm personal memory from that ceremony was that I realized my wife still had the ability to surprise me. I thought she was a hard-headed internationalist – little did I know that at heart, she was sentimental about her Indian-ness.
I did not realize it then, but around that time seems to have been the point at which Britain started its Great Retreat from the world. Northern Rock, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Great Gordon Brown/Hank Paulson financial rescue, the piling on of debt, the defeat of New Labour – all were to come. Sometime in 2006, Britain started to see new residents from Eastern Europe populate its cities and suburbs thanks to the doors opened by Tony Blair in 2004.
The roots of Brexit were sown then. It was watered and encouraged by stupidity and mendacity of the political parties. No one in their right minds would call us Cool Britannia. All around us people are filled with hate, disappointment, resentment and anger – all thanks to a stupid referendum and its flawed result. And of course egged on by the Daily Mail.
I have long wanted to write on this unfolding disaster and feel now is the time to do so. Great Britain is about to lose it’s “Great” just thirty years after Maggie Thatcher had put it back.