One of the least pleasant aspects of Boris Johnson’s recent rant was his comment that young people in Britain today have “split loyalties” because they wear or fly the European flag.
This insinuation, that having a European dimension to your identity is somehow unacceptable, or even a threat, is dangerous. Next step is to brand them as un-British. Enemies of the people.
Such tactics are not new. The Nazis claimed Jews were not proper Germans. The EDL claim Muslims can’t be proper Brits. Some Pakistanis say Christians aren’t fully Pakistani. And so on – usually leading to violence, most recently with the Burmese treatment of the Rohingya.
We British should be perfectly at ease with the idea of having more than one layer of identity. Like many English people, I support England in football, Britain in the Olympics and Europe in the Ryder Cup. This is not contradictory, it is simply illustrative of different dimensions of identity. You could add your local football team and your county cricket team. Or to move away from geography, you may have a particular religion as part of your identity. Or gender. Or sexuality. A recent piece by Ian Dunt explores this more detail.
Identity is pluralistic, not uniform. Different dimensions will be important to different people. Some layers may not be considered important at all by individuals. Others will. All of us will be different. To demonise people who feel that Europe is part of their identity, reflecting centuries of cultural, political, commercial, musical, sporting and other interaction across our continent, is both pathetic and dangerous.