On 1st January, 2014, the borders of the United Kingdom opened to immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria who want to live and work in Britain. The country’s newspapers are filled with hysterical headlines warning of a tide of immigrants, and populist politicians are promising to “protect” Britain from this “foreign invasion.”
So I’d like to redress the balance and say “Welcome to Britain!” Not just to Romanians and Bulgarians, but to everyone!
Britain is an island nation, but that doesn’t mean our borders are fixed and closed – it makes them fluid and open. We are one of the world’s great seafaring nations, our gaze fixed firmly on the horizon, explorers of the whole world. We are one of the world’s great trading nations, practically the inventors of globalisation and free trade. And our language is the world’s language.
At home we are a mongrel country. There is no such thing as British. We claim Celtic roots, or Gaelic, or French, or German, or Jewish or Dutch. Our ancestors travelled here from the Indian sub-continent, or from Hong Kong or the Caribbean. Britain embraced all newcomers and grew in strength and stature from every new wave of immigration.
Foreign tourists love us for our Queen, our red telephone boxes, our country pubs and our rainy weather. But they know us equally for our cultural exports – the Rolls Royce, the Beatles, David Bowie, U2, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill and cricket, to name a few.
Britain, almost more than any other country on Earth is a place that absorbs the new, integrates it into its rainbow culture, and harnesses it to create things that are unexpected and wonderful. It’s a country that values freedom and fairness, and believes everyone deserves a chance. It’s a tiny country that struts on the world stage like a giant, giving the world democracy and the Industrial Revolution and riding the tide of globalisation and international trade. And it’s a country that should welcome young and old, rich and poor into its fold.
I’m old enough to remember when the people of Romania and Bulgaria were imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain by their own governments. I delight in their new freedoms and so I say to anyone from those countries who gives us the honour of choosing to make Britain their home, welcome! You are most welcome!