Why we’re all British migrants

Living as a Brit in Spain, many people ask me about my views on BREXIT.  This has always seemed a silly question. I am a British migrant living in Europe: clearly, I support European migrants living in Britain and the European Union.

However, this is not obvious to all of the 300,000 other Brits who have migrated to Spain: many Brits abroad don’t recognise themselves as migrants.  A British “expat” in Spain explained that he had voted for BREXIT because the UK needs ‘control of its own borders’.    I was baffled: he was completely unaware that he was an exact mirror of the very migrants he wished to stop entering the UK.

Expat interview.png
Eddie, a British “expat”, expresses his views on migration in Guardian footage.

But perhaps I was wrong to be shocked.  This same hypocrisy is built into British media and politics.  We hear again and again about Latvian migrants, Asian migrants and Polish migrants – but never British migrants.

The Oxford Dictionary describes a migrant as a ‘person who moves from one place to another, often to find work.’   That’s me: I am a teacher who moved to Spain for work.  Yet, no one has ever referred to me as a migrant, immigrant or emigrant.  Instead, I am more likely to be called a teacher, expat or gap student.

Why?  Because, in reality, the dictionary’s definition of ‘migrant’ no longer exists.  After years of the media trampling the term into the mud, the meaning has changed.  An Oxford University study found that the most common newspaper descriptor for ‘immigrant’ was ‘illegal’.  Illegal immigrant, illegal immigrant, illegal immigrant.  If you hear it enough times, all immigrants become illegal. In fact, a study found that 30% of primary school children believe that ‘all immigrants are illegal’.

In the same way, newspapers have narrowed the meaning of ‘migrant’.  Now ‘migrant’ connotes people of a different race: people who are non-British, not-rich and not-welcome.  ‘Migrant’ is no longer an inclusive, open term.  It’s an exclusive term and not in a members-get-a-VIP-welcome and free-drinks kind of way.  This limited picture of a migrant completely ignores a huge proportion of migrants, such as myself.

This is even more ridiculous when you consider just how many white British migrants there are and have been throughout history.

Looking at my family alone, my mother, Granny and great grandparents all migrated from Scotland to England.  Long before that, my Northern Irish ancestors but their hopes into boats and migrated across the sea to Scotland.   Really as Winder, an immigration expert says, “We are all immigrants … it simply depends how far back you go.”

On top of that, with globalisation, migration continues in my generation more than ever.  In fact, the World Bank estimates that currently about 8% of Brits live abroad.  My sister migrated to France to au pair, my school friend to Thailand to teach and my flatmate to Amsterdam to design.  All British, all migrants.

The word ‘migrant’ and other language surrounding migration has been misused for decades.  The rise in both racist incidents and terrorist attacks hasn’t been caused by immigration.  Migration is not the problem.  Migration is as old and natural as time itself. What is the problem is the lack of tolerance and understanding bred by misleading media representations and language.

In a time where the UK rapidly needs to develop integration, it is vital that the language we use is applied to reality.  We should all embrace the term migrant whenever appropriate.  The term ‘migrant’ should include all: whether they’re leaving or entering the UK, good or bad, Asian or white, tractor-driving or blog-writing.



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