Axel Scheffler, illustrator of the Gruffalo children’s books, used his acceptance speech at the British Book Awards to launch a ferocious attack on Brexit.
The German, who was presented with an award for illustrator of the year, said “I can’t pretend it’s business as usual. It’s just 10 months until ‘Freedom Day’ – next March.
“Worst-case scenario, I might not be allowed to stay here by the time my next book with Julia Donaldson is launched.”
Mr Scheffler, who works on the children’s book with author Ms Donaldson, has lived in the UK for 36 years.
But he said: “There would have been no Gruffalo without the EU facilitating my study here.
“And, even if I had, somehow, studied in the UK, I would have had to leave after my studies ended in 1985. So there would never have been the successful Anglo-German joint venture Donaldson-Scheffler.”
Saying he was “very grateful” for the award last week, Mr Scheffler paid tribute “to the judges who chose me, a foreign EU citizen in Brexit times – that’s a nice gesture.
“But I also accept it with a heavy heart and maybe even a slightly bitter feeling – it feels like a consolation prize. Or even a farewell gift.”
He said: “I would like to mention another person who came from Germany under completely different circumstances who is here tonight: my friend, Judith Kerr. Here, in this room, you have a refugee from the Nazis and a peace-time EU immigrant giving something for the families and the economy of the UK.
“But after the Brexit vote it feels, despite our contribution, as if this country is saying, ‘It was all a mistake! We don’t really want you after all’. A Brexiteer would, of course, say, ‘Of course we want them when they make money for us’. But how can you gauge the future contribution of a young girl, as Judith was when she came here, or a 25 year-old student, as I was?”
Mr Scheffler made reference to one of his best-known works, Room on the Broom, which was made into an Oscar-nominated animated short film starring Gillian Anderson, David Walliams and Simon Pegg.
He said: “It makes me sad, and I worry when I think of a post-Brexit future for the UK families, especially the children, who are growing up with our books.
“What went wrong? What did they miss, the parents and grandparents who were reading Room on the Broom with its message of the importance of solidarity, partnership, friendship and kindness? The book wasn’t called No Room on the Broom.
“So beware, Brexit Britain – if you have no friends in a hostile environment – the dragons may come and get you.”