I am a foreigner

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I am a foreigner. I have a passport from a country other than the UK to prove it. It so happens this is also true of my whole immediate family. For differing reasons we all qualify for such passports. At one time that might almost have been irrelevant, or at mostly a matter of curiosity. Now it means that we could all be considered foreigners. And without doubt that is now a very explicit basis for discrimination in this country. Lord Tebbit, admittedly long a man without empathy or sense, used the term in the Lords last week, and seems to have struck a popular chord by doing so. And millions of us feel estranged as a result.

I never really expected to feel so divided from the society I live in as I do now. I presumed that this country was my home. The truth is I really do not have another, whatever my nationalities might be. I am, of course, domiciled here. But separateness has nothing to do with my sense of place: it has much to do with the attitude of others. And what has been unleashed, on at least three million EU citizens living in the UK and a million or more UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU, is a sense of otherness.

As a British passsport holder I could feel immune to this, but I don't. Empathy prevents that. So does my sense, based on fact, that it is accidents of birth that largely determine these things. After all, where my grandfather was born and where he subsequently lived was not something over which I had much control. Nor did I even meet him: visiting his  war grave is the closest physical contact I have had with him.

But that does not matter, apparently. What matters is the paperwork. And the label. The label is 'foreigner'. The sense that it might be applied is now breeding disquiet. I sense it in colleagues and friends. If some of my students are not acutely aware of it I would be amazed. And such labels are dangerous. They are the basis for discrimination. On that score the damage is already done: millions now know they are just bargaining chips for a Conservative prime minister. What is more, they're aware that many applaud that fact.

A line has been drawn. And it is a dangerous one. No badges are being worn, but they might as well be. Our society is divided. And a part of me, the part that believed I lived in a tolerant, welcoming, open society has been profoundly injured. Whether the wound will heal I do not know, it is that serious. What was my country is not the place I knew any more. And despite this being the only home I have ever really had even I wonder why I am staying here any more. Living elsewhere is no longer such an issue. Those there are, after all, just people. They're not foreigners. They're just others to embrace. But that's not true here anymore. And that's profoundly worrying.