According to the Daily Mail, I’m a foreigner

As Sunder Katwala has pointed out, the Daily Mail has said it thinks it is a mistake for people who were born here but whose parents where born overseas to be counted as British.

Here’s the comment I’m submitting to the Mail’s story:

I was born here. I’ve lived here all my life (nearer to 40 years now than I wish to think). I’ve been to school here. I’ve been to university here. Twice. All my jobs have been here. All my homes have been here. I celebrate Christmas. I munch chocolate eggs at Easter. I was confirmed in the Church of England. I’ve been taught, read and seen Shakespeare. I support the English cricket, football and rugby teams. I think football should start at 3pm on a Saturday. I’ve even cheered on English chess players. I love Ealing comedies. I laugh at Monty Python. I’ve voted in every public election here (except one where the Royal Mail lost my ballot paper). I’ve stood for election here. I’ve read the Magna Carta. I talk to strangers about the weather. I’ve been known to use the word “spiffing!” in public. I’ve even started drinking tea. I have on my shelf my father’s certificate from the British Under-Secretary of State for War thanking him for his service in the army. But according to you, I should be counted as a foreigner. Is the mistake I’ve made never to have gone Morris Dancing?

UPDATE: Danny Finkelstein has written about the story here.

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  • Only the true British live overseas!

  • Note to Ms Blears.
    It is the British LACK of values that is the problem.Drunkeness,widespread cheating in the financial world, etc.

  • Rob Blackie 26th Feb '09 - 8:09am

    I’m worried. Both my parents have emigrated to live overseas. Do I retrospectively lose my Britishness?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Feb '09 - 9:42am

    I have read carefully the Daily Mail article you quote, and nowhere in it do I see a claim that someone who is the child or grandchild of people born outside Britain is not “British”.

    It notes the “impact” of the fact that there are a large number of people in this situation. Do you deny there is any impact? I think that would be rather silly, there undoubtedly is an impact.

    The impact is that it changes what it means to be “British”. It no longer necessarily means having a white skin. It no longer necessarily means being an adherent of one of the Churches which owes its origin to the English or Scottish reformation. There are other effects as well – are you saying there aren’t?

    The scale of change in the cultural expectations of people who are legally “British” has changed massively in the past century. Immigration has been a factor in this, but I would not say the biggest factor.

    Many people are bewildered by this pace of change, it undoubtedly opens up new opportunities, but also closes certainties on which people used to rely. If our only reaction to people who are bewildered by the pace of change is to poke fun at them and belittle them and suggest their feelings are invalid, we should not be surprised that they get pushed into the hands of unsavoury characters who exploit their concern.

  • Never been the same since they let that “foreigner” Colin Cowdrey captain the England cricket team.

  • Martin Land 26th Feb '09 - 9:53am

    The truth will out. I’m really a foreigner, disguising myself as a Brit. My family only arrived in 1276 and my wife’s in 1563. And both from France. My eldest son was born in France too.

  • Chris Keating 26th Feb '09 - 10:04am

    Mark, I’m not sure that “eating chocolate eggs at Easter” is that great a sign of anything. To the best of my knowledge you eat any form of chocolate at any time of the year!

  • Damn. According to one of my aunts who’s heavily into genealogy, my family came over from Scandinavia with the Vikings. I better hand in my passport now.

    According to another of my aunts, whenever she goes to certain parts of London she doesn’t feel like she’s in Britain any more. I imagine that’s the sort of feeling Matthew is referring to. And I’m sorry Matthew, but you’re just not going to be able to respond to those sorts of concerns unless you ban non-English-descent people from setting up businesses. Is that what you’re suggesting? Or should we perhaps continue to mock racism as being stupid, and continue to work on ways to enhance service provision to ensure that the resentment many white working class people feel over, for example, insufficient social housing, is mitigated?

    The BNP has the quick and easy answers. We have the harder, long term ones. But ours are right.

  • Simon Titley 26th Feb '09 - 11:07am

    Whenever the Daily Mail gets you down, restore your spirits with this:

  • Matthew Huntbach:

    Surely you would agree that the Mail story is talking largely in negative terms? It is not discussing the positive impact of people coming into the country be they first second or a thousandth generation.

    They are using ‘foreign’ as a pejorative and implying that we should class all those whose parents may not be from the UK as immigrants themselves- and considering the Daily Mail’s views on immigrants in general I doubt this means they think we should shower them with candy and flowers.

    As for not mocking peoples fears, when those fears are based on pure ignorance an prejudice then why not?

    If you don’t stand up and say ‘you are wrong’ then those prejudices will simply continue. This is even more important when talking abut a paper such as the Daily Mail which have the ability to influence millions of peoples opinions.

    Just because some people are ‘bewildered by the pace of change’ doesn’t mean everyone should have to appease them- as Dylan said:

    ‘Your old road is rapidly ageing, please get out of the new one is you can’t lend a hand.

  • Chris Nelson 26th Feb '09 - 12:15pm

    Matthew Huntbach I think you’re wrong. It clearly states in the article that it is wrong to record the children of immigrants “as British [i]rather than[/i] as second or third generation immigrants.”

    It’s that last category – the idea that anyone with a grandparent born outside the UK shouldn’t be counted as British – that’s particularly nutty.

    To prove my case – I was born in England. Both my parents were born in England. I have ancestry in England that has been traced back as far as the 1600s, and even have an ancestor was a cavalryman fighting against Napoleon.

    Yet according to the Daily Mail, I must be a foreigner – because my grandmother was born in Ireland.

    You’ve got to love the Daily Mail!!

  • I laugh at these right-whingers who go to places like Spain.

    Moaning about how they had to leave because of an influx of immigrants who don’t try to fit in, refuse to learn the language, take all the houses & insist on eating rubbish.

    The lack of self-awareness is funny. 🙂

  • I’m not sure why Richard I is picked out, as Henry II his father was the first Plantagenet and so was certainly the foreigner! Hnery II was born in France, at least Richard I was born in England.
    Natch – all these guys would be foreigners according to the Daily Fail!
    Edward IV was born in Rouen, and the Tudors of course were Welsh, the Stuarts Scottish ….
    Let’s hope none of them opened businesses anywhere…

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Feb '09 - 3:40pm

    Adam, in nothing that I wrote did I suggest that people of non-English descent should be banned from opening up business.

    jiggles, in nothing that I wrote did I suggest the Daily Mail story was not negative.

    Chris Nelson, as I wrote, I looked carefully at the article, and I did not see the claim that the children or grandchildren of immigrants are not “British”, I see only the mention of the “impact” they cause. To deny that there has been an impact is to suggest that to be “British” today means the same as it did a hundred or so years ago, which clearly it doesn’t.

    My point is that we need to be precise with words, and however much we might like to think the Daily Mail is saying “people with a grandparent born outside the UK aren’t British” because then we can jump up and down like silly little children or MPs at PMQs and say “racist! racist! yah booh sucks”, it isn’t actually saying that.

    It seems to be saying that immigration, both recent and a generation or two ago has had a big impact, with which we can hardly disagree. We may feel the impact is largely positive and the Daily Mail may feel it’s largely negative, but that’s another issue.

    In fact, the content of the article seems to be concentrating more on population number factors than on cultural factors. So even more so, while we might wish it to be saying something else because then we can have good “yah boo sucks” fun, it isn’t saying that.

    Myself, I prefer plain debate in which each side acknowledges what the other says, even if it disagrees with it or with the implication, rather than debate which pretends the other side has said something else because it can then play schoolboy games with that something else.

    Playing the “yah booh sucks, you’re a racist” game is something liberals like, because it makes us feel smug and pleased with ourselves and not like those working-class oiks we despise (OK, so I can do the hidden implication stuff as well). Sometimes I do find liberals to be such unbearable prigs, and here’s a case.

  • Well anyway all those true blues who were born abroad,many in what was the British Empire,who marry a foreigner will only be able to claim British citizenship for their children with great difficulty.

  • “The impact is that it changes what it means to be “British”. It no longer necessarily means having a white skin. It no longer necessarily means being an adherent of one of the Churches which owes its origin to the English or Scottish reformation.”

    You seem to have missed the re-admission of Jews into England. Perhaps that’s excusable – it happened only 350-odd years ago, under Oliver Cromwell …

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Feb '09 - 8:51am


    You seem to have missed the re-admission of Jews into England. Perhaps that’s excusable – it happened only 350-odd years ago, under Oliver Cromwell …

    Yes, it was a generalisation. I also missed the Catholic recusants who would have been more numerous than the Jews.

  • To quote Blackadder on UK Gold last night:
    “I’m as English as Queen Victoria”
    “So your father’s a german, you’re half German and you married a German”

    Or that great patriotic anthem, England, half English by Billy Bragg:

    Britannia, she’s half English, she speaks Latin at home
    St George was born in the Lebanon, how he got here I don’t know
    And those three lions on your shirt,
    They never sprang from England’s dirt
    Them lions are half English and I’m half English too

  • Anony

    And don’t forget the Huguenots.

  • George Turner 4th Mar '09 - 11:04pm

    You touch upon a serious issue. Rhetoric from the Daily Mail like this is not only wrong and proto racist it is also deeply damaging to society. If unfortunately important media organizations decide that it is their job to alienate large parts of our population, how will we ever hope to integrate and live in a cohesive society?

  • Keith Browning 2nd Feb '12 - 12:33pm

    Morris dancing was originally based on ‘Moorish’ dancing probably from wandering gypsies in the Middle Ages.

    We had a whole run of English cricket captains not born in England, Cowdrey, Dexter, (both born in India) Denness (Scots), Greig (South African), and I think Tony Lewis (Welsh) had a go for a series abroad.

    Not one of Victoria’s grand children married an Englishman, although one did marry a Scotsman.

    I. K. Brunel was at least half French.

    Englishness is probably an invention of Victorian nannies telling stories to the children of rich gentlefolk, to get their charges to sleep.

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