So the free movement of people has come to an end and the dream I once had of spending retirement in France would not be tenable, even if it were practical. “Brexit,” a cousin told me, “was getting rid of foreigners.”
What does “foreign” mean, though? How far back must a person’s roots go in order for them to not be considered foreign?
Coming from a village that was considered so insignificant it was simply called “Ham,” the Saxon word for village, it is interesting to note the Domesday Book entry for the place. Nine hundred and thirty years ago, it had been taken over by foreigners:
The Church holds HAM itself. Before 1066 it paid tax for 17 hides. Land for 20 ploughs, of which 5 hides and 2 1/2 virgates are in lordship; 3 ploughs there; 5 slaves; 22 villagers and 21 smallholders with 8 ploughs & 3 hides & l½ virgates.
Meadow, 30 acres; woodland, 16 acres. 2 cobs; 17 cattle; 10 pigs; 150 sheep.
Value £10; when Abbot Thurstan acquired it, £4. Of this manor’s land Robert of Auberville holds 1 hide and 1 virgate from the Abbot, Serlo of Burcy 5 hides,Gerard Ditcher 3 virgates of land. Leofric, Alfwold and Aelmer held them before 1066; they could not be separated from the church. In lordship 2 ploughs; 4 slaves; 2 villagers and 14 smallholders with 2 ploughs. Meadow, 30 acres; pasture, 20 acres. In total, value 110s.
The Normans had swept away the Saxon landowners, Leofric, Alfwold and Aelmer had lost their lands to Robert of Auberville, Serlo of Burcy and Gerard Ditcher. Auberville and Burcy can still be found in the Normandy department of Calvados. Gerard Ditcher had a number of landholdings, in each place a Saxon landlord had been deposed.
Of course, it would be absurd to consider the descendants of the Normans to be foreigners, so where does one draw the line?
Five hundred years ago, thousands of Protestants fled persecution in Europe, they would not be considered foreign, would they?
In the Nineteenth Century, waves of immigrants arrived from Ireland and Eastern Europe, they would now be considered British, wouldn’t they?
In the Twentieth Century, there came arrivals from the Empire and the Commonwealth, many of them actively sought in order to deal with a shortage of workers in post-war Britain, no-one would seriously suggest they are still foreign, would they?
Britain has had wave upon wave of immigration through the centuries, and millions of British immigrants have found work and new homes in every corner of the world. Why are people who come to Britain called “immigrants” while British immigrants in other countries are called “expatriates”?
When did the movement of people become a problem? Who decided who was foreigners?