“Go back home to your third-world country,” a helpful stranger told me on Twitter recently. I get comments like this a lot, often appended with a witty comment about my name. Normally they don’t bother me. But this particular jibe was just after Christmas and it hit a nerve because, guess what? I’d love to go back home to England. I live in New York and it’s been more than a year since I’ve seen my family and friends in London. Part of me feels homesick, but the other part of me isn’t sure what I’m actually homesick for. When I read the news about Britain, I feel as if I barely recognise the country I was born in any more.
I don’t want to romanticise pre-Brexit Britain. The country was not exactly an accepting utopia before the referendum. But Brexit unleashed something new and nasty: almost overnight, many people who were seen as in any way “foreign” felt unwelcome and out of place. Things seem to have got progressively worse ever since. Theresa May’s anti-immigration “citizens of nowhere” speech felt like a slap in the face. The premiership of Boris “piccaninnies” Johnson has felt like a punch in the gut. The government has been crammed with self-serving and out-of-touch ghouls such as Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg – a man who thinks that food banks are “uplifting”.
It’s not just the government’s callousness that is depressing, it’s hearing from afar about the rampant cronyism and ruinous incompetence. Shorn of the softening effects of day to day interactions with kindly neighbours, close communities and good friends, to the international spectator Britain has become the world stage equivalent of the angry drunk who refuses to acknowledge it’s closing time. Being British had some cachet when I moved to the US a decade ago; now it just feels embarrassing.
Not everything is terrible, of course. When Britain became the first place in the world to start administering vaccines I felt absurdly patriotic. The New Year’s Eve firework display in London made me shed a little tear. Seeing the way my parents’ neighbourhood has come together during the pandemic has been really heartwarming. Still, the view of Johnson’s Britain from the US isn’t pretty. I’ll always love England, but from afar at least, it’s getting harder and harder to like it.