A personal view from Mike Harris, Vice-chair of EuroCitizens
I was down at the allotments and almost dropped the hoe on my foot when HMA Hugh Elliot rang to offer me an MBE. It was, he explained, for campaigning with EuroCitizens and British in Europe for the rights of UK citizens in Spain and the EU. When Hugh mentioned a ceremony at Buckingham Palace I baulked. I don't do aeroplanes, I gasped, almost confessing that I don't do Queens either. Hugh replied that the ceremony could also be done in Madrid and, while we chatted horticulture, I imagined a party on the ambassadorial lawn with as many EuroCitizens present as possible.
Our committee supported my idea to write something about it. Everything somehow got more complicated as I entered the long dark night of the soul of the leftist offered membership of the British Empire, with its long and bloody past. Surely it hasn't even existed for fifty years? And wasn't Brexit, so damaging for us Britons in the EU, fuelled by imperial nostalgia and fantasies of 'Empire 2.0'? And wasn't it the current government that got us into this mess in the first place? And what about....?
Of course, such misgivings are common, and many have rejected honours for similar reasons. Others, like Professor David Olosuga, finally accepted - in his case on the grounds that the contributions of non-white people have been under-recognised. Whilst in no way comparing our position to that of ethnic minorities, British emigrants in Europe have also been long ignored by UK journalists and politicians (because most of us cannot vote).
I returned to my initial gut reaction in the allotment, thought of our brave little group getting back together again after this damned pandemic - and that coming on top of years of uncertainty. It has been such a long road since we first met in the shoddy back room of a bar in Lavapies. There have been great moments, the anti-Brexit demonstrations in London, our own at the Plaza Margaret Thatcher and our 24-hour vigil outside the Embassy in Madrid. Even our singsong on Brexit night alleviated our sadness about this most futile and destructive act.
It's true that campaigning has been gruelling, we have not got everything we wanted by any means and there is still work to do. However, we have done our best as a committee with the support of our small but loyal and generous membership. We have worked closely with other groups in Spain* and have received constant backup from the brilliant British in Europe*. All this has enabled us to punch above our weight and make a real difference to people's lives, I think.
So why turn down the possibility of a glass of Foreign Office red when there's so much to be proud about?
* Congratulations to Jane Golding and Fiona Godfrey on their OBEs - they more than deserve them. The only pity is that the UK Embassy in France did not recognise the fantastic work of BiE's Kalba Meadows and Kathryn Dobson and that the Embassy in Rome did not do the same for Jeremy Morgan and Zoe Adams.
* Congratulations also to
Debbie Williams (Brexpats Hear Our Voice), Anne Hernández (Brexpats in Spain)
and Sue Wilson (Bremain) who have also been awarded MBEs. Again, all three awards are well deserved.