Introduction

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        If you’re the bearer of a burgundy EU passport, were born since 1989, and have lived most of your life inside Europe, then you probably don’t spend too many sleepless nights awake pondering borders. Wondering how they came about, questioning what they mean, how they evolve and are negotiated between different parties, or how they impact people who come into contact with them. If you fit that description above, then it’s probably safe to say that borders don’t get your emotions running high or set your imagination on fire – if they are visible at all, then they are generally sterile-looking, harshly-lit, predictable and transient places that you don’t particularly remember or hold close to your heart.

        Neither did I. Growing up in the 1990s inside the Europe Union, the only thing borders ever represented to me (when I could actually see them that is) was a queue. Waiting in a queue, either on foot or in a car, with a passport poised, ready to whizz through a border control and on towards much more exciting destinations. On towards real places, where there were people and life and surprises and a sense of purpose and belonging. In comparison to “real places”, borders seemed like a sort of No Man’s Land and the only emotions these borders ever elicited in me were impatience and boredom, but never anxiety. Both inside Europe and outside, I never had the slightest sense of doubt or worry about my upcoming encounters at borders, for I held a burgundy passport from one of the world’s richest and most developed countries – an EU country – therefore borders for me were a non-issue.

         The majority of the 508 million EU citizens continue to sleep tight in their beds, safe in the knowledge that borders nowadays in Europe are a non-issue.[1] For EU citizens born since 1989, aged 28 or under, crossing a border has always been second nature and an unremarkable event – nothing to write home about. Borders are merely what these young Europeans see on the evening news, when President Trump speaks of building a wall to keep out Mexicans, or on the West Bank when the Israeli-Palestine conflict worsens. Nothing close to home, nothing to remotely worry about on a personal level.

         But of course there have been borders and walls to worry about in Europe. I was born in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall finally came tumbling down, and like millions of other European millennials, I grew up rather ambivalent to clips and images of the Iron Curtain – it had fallen, it was over and it didn’t impact me personally, so why worry too much about it? I slept soundly in my bed without too much of a care for borders or walls.

            Borders only truly began to enter my consciousness as the discourse in Britain surrounding the 2016 referendum began to heat up. The UKIP and Leave campaign’s mantra of “Take back control of our borders” spoke to a generation who had lived in Britain prior to the country’s accession to the European Economic Community in 1973, to a generation who had already lived in a world carved up by national borders, and who’d furthermore experienced Europe divided into East and West by an Iron Curtain. To the younger generations like myself, this mantra of “take back control” meant nothing. As far as I was concerned, the UK being outside of the Schengen Zone was already too much of a border for my liking. A burden, a boring queue, nothing else.

            The marginal majority of the ‘Leave’ vote in the 23rd June 2016 referendum legitimised a nationalist and xenophobic undercurrent in the UK, which leaped onto rejecting free movement and limiting immigration as the sole objectives of Brexit, with border control being the utmost priority. But this is not a novel sentiment, as Britain’s maritime geography has been influencing levels of Euroscepticism for centuries. The English Channel separating the British Isles from continental Europe has long served not just as a physical border, but also a psychological one for many Britons, and has hindered Europeanisation of the country.[2]

            As if a physical sea border weren’t enough, more recently we see the issue of the 310-mile-long (499-km-long) Irish border post-Brexit take centre stage. Now that the Conservatives rule as a minority government, since Theresa May’s gamble in the June 2017 snap election, they depend on the support of Northern Ireland’s 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs to pass legislation, which gives the DUP far greater influence in Parliament than they’ve ever had before. Despite their pro-Brexit stance, the DUP actually desire a so-called ‘soft’ border between Northern Ireland and its EU neighbour the Republic of Ireland, continuing the precedent of the Common Travel Area, given that there are an estimated 23,000 to 30,000 people that cross that border daily for work.[3]

            Tensions over the fate of the Irish border hotted up further on the 28th July 2017 when the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rebuffed Theresa May’s proposal for a hi-tech ‘frictionless’ land border between the two countries post-Brexit. He rejected the idea of any border on the island at all, instead demanding that border controls take place at airports and ports, effectively drawing a sea border between the entire island and the UK.[4] As Britain grapples with its land border with the Republic of Ireland, borders have been very much elevated from their status of non-issue to actually-a-pretty-big-issue-after-all.

            While the political impasse over the Irish border might disturb the sleep of slightly fewer mainland Brits than it does the Irish (regardless of which side of their border their pillow lies), the issue of borders is becoming ever more real for young European Britons in search of employment in other EU states. Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis have both clearly stated that UK-EU freedom of movement will end in March 2019, and with every week that passes in the Brexit negotiations, young millennials like myself are watching doors to job and study opportunities in the EU forcibly slam shut in our faces. In last year’s referendum, 71% of under-25s voted to remain in the EU, that same age group who’ve never known a Europe without freedom of movement.[5]

            As a young European born in the UK, who has made use of the EU’s freedom of movement and has witnessed first-hand the benefits of being able to easily live, travel, work and study in another EU country, trouble-free borders have suddenly been hoisted out of my reach, stamped with an expiry date of March 2019. This precious freedom of movement dangles tantalisingly close, as I watch other European friends hold tightly onto their burgundy EU passports, safe in the knowledge that their membership to the club has no expiry date, unlike mine.

            It was out of this fear of losing my rights, that I suddenly took an interest in the otherwise non-descript borders that I’d been indifferently and nonchalantly crossing my entire life. I decided to take a deeper look at the European borders I would cross in 2017, to try to understand how they came about, what they mean, how they evolve, and how they impact people who come into contact with them. So please grab your passports and join me on the journey.

___________________

[1] “Living in the EU,” European Union, accessed July 15, 2017, https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/figures/living_en#tab-1-2.
[2] Virginia Stuart-Taylor, “An island drifting away into the Atlantic: Understanding the role of the sea in the tide of British Euroscepticism,” The Well-Travelled Journal, last modified July 24, 2017, https://thewell-travelledpostcard.com/portfolio/an-island-drifting-away-into-the-atlantic-understanding-the-role-of-the-sea-in-the-tide-of-british-euroscepticism/.
[3] Sylvia de Mars, Colin R.G. Murray, Aoife O’Donoghue and Ben T.C. Warwick, “The Common Travel Area: Prospects After Brexit,” The Centre for Cross Border Studies, last modified January 2017, http://crossborder.ie/site2015/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/The_Common_Travel_Area_Prospects_After_Brexit_Jan2017.pdf; “Brexit: UK-Irish relations,” House of Lords European Union Committee, last modified December 12, 2016, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldeucom/76/76.pdf.
[4] hJon Vale, “Ireland ‘demanding sea border with UK after Brexit’,” The Independent, last modified July 27, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ireland-demand-sea-border-with-uk-brexit-leo-varadkar-a7863986.html.
[5] Peter Moore, “How Britain Voted,” YouGov, last modified June 27, 2016, https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/06/27/how-britain-voted/.

5 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. What you have written is just how I feel, cheated by a bunch of self imposed politicians with above average earnings, probably a second home etc. I was abroad when the EU vote was taken. We applied for a postal vote which arrived very late and we doubt it was ever received by the deadline to count towards remaining in the EU. My first thought was loss of opportunities for younger people choosing a different country to study and free movement to learn different skills. I was a late candidate for a teaching career having to balance a job, college and being a one parent family but I made it and felt proud of my achievements. I worked long hours with my students instilling the importance of learning as much about life, other cultures and striving to pass these messages on. Until this government is held responsible for the havoc they are imposing on us we cannot turn it around. United we stand divided we fall. Keep the pressure on, I usually have a daily rant at some stupid idiot on Facebook who has no interest in saving us from going back in time, usually because they do not feel responsible enough to fight for what we will lose from our unity in the EU. I am 70 but i do not believe I should stop fighting for what I believe is right for my country.

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment and I am grateful to hear your perspective, as a fellow Briton who’s taken the opportunity to live abroad and who recognises the benefits the EU offers people in the UK. Keep fighting for what you believe!

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  2. A very interesting article. I agree that our island/s being separated from the rest of mainland Europe by the channel must influence, perhaps subconsciously, some people’s viewpoints and also the way they voted in the Brexit/Remain referendum.

    You write from the viewpoint of a young person, but there are also a large number of UK citizens like me of your parents’ generation who love the freedom and ease of travel within the EU that we have enjoyed for so long. Compare this with the often time-consuming crossing of boarders beyond the EU. I sincerely hope that an agreement can be reached during the Brexit negotiations to allow UK citizens to continue to travel easily within the EU.

    Working in the travel industry, I can confirm that there is a lot of anxiety and stress around the future of sending UK workers abroad after Brexit. This uncertainty is resulting in extreme difficulties with long term business planning.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and for adding your perspective from working in the travel industry – an industry that has clearly benefitted from open borders and which will be heavily impacted by Brexit, and whose views need to be taken into account during the negotiations!

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  3. Border or not border. It depends on the circumstances. What president Trump is trying to achieve is something to guarantee safety measures for the States in raising a wall in front of Mexico. And I appreciate this move to avoid drug importation from South America. What I can’t accept is the fact that UK is trying to do the same thing but as a act of weakness and not of safety for its citizens, neither for the future of the new generations which are going to come. Yes, because the development of a community comes from the open mindedness to new people and that means new cultures, progress, future. Living among the walls of your “flat” supporting yourself with your old imperialistic revenues brings you but a slow mortal ageing to your country and your children. And that’s what the old generation voted at the brexit referendum. It has been statistically proved. Perhaps the word conservative needs a new review beginning from our own parliaments. For misanthropic is the new one concealed but rising on the skyline.

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