Why I'm keeping the flags in my Twitter handle

A man waves both a Union flag and a European flag together on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament

A man waves both a Union flag and a European flag together on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

MITCH BENN gives a pro-European take on why he's keeping the Union flags in his Twitter handle.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I have two little flag emojis appended to my Twitter handle: the EU flag and the Union flag. I hope you’ll forgive my observation of the slightly twee convention that one only refers to the British flag as a 'Union Jack' when it’s flown from a ship; I find you get less complaints about pedantry than you get from pedants complaining about lack of pedantry. Don’t worry about the pedants being offended by that remark; they logged off to write an angry email as soon as I said “less complaints” rather than “fewer complaints”.

The presence of the EU flag is, I imagine, pretty self-explanatory. I put it there as an expression of my EU citizenship when said citizenship was under threat by Brexit and I’m leaving it there as an expression of my continued self-identification as European now that my citizenship has been stripped from me against my will.

The Union flag is the one which surprises, and, I’m afraid, sometimes offends people. People on both sides: I get angry Brexiters telling me that as a stinking traitorous Remoaner I’ve no right to evoke “their” flag; I also - occasionally - get concerned progressives asking me why I’m associating myself with a symbol which has become besmirched by having been claimed by the insular, the nationalistic, the xenophobic, the just-plain-racist. I’m sure it would gladden the hearts of both BBC News and CNN to know that this is one of those rare and precious occasions when both sides really are equally wrong about something.

The Brexiters (and right wingers in general, not that these terms are interchangeable, as we know) are wrong that I shouldn’t be flying their flag because it's not their flag. Brexit has been presented from the start as an exercise in patriotic self-belief, but self-belief in the face of evidence to the contrary is not patriotism.

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It’s self-destructive arrogance. There is nothing patriotic about choosing to hobble your country economically while diminishing its status from world power to international punch-line rather than admit that you might have been mistaken about something. A patriot is someone who wants their country to be the best it can be, not someone who bloody-mindedly insists that it already is.

I’ve sometimes made these points - and other related points - in ranty piece-to-camera Facebook videos, in which I (I’ll admit, slightly mischievously) present myself standing in front of a greenscreened-in Union flag. I’ll confess that it does rather amuse me to think of the UKIP/Free Tommy contingent seeing a thumbnail of a shouty face in front of a British flag and eagerly clicking on it only to hear the literal reverse of what they’re expecting (and indeed, the comments I get underneath these videos would suggest that this happens a lot).

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But it’s my flag, at least as much as it is theirs. In the case of the Brexiters, given that their endeavours will almost certainly accelerate Scotland towards independence, at which point the Union flag will cease to be the flag of our nation, I’d say it’s rather more my flag than it is theirs.

Which brings me to why the handwringing progressives are also wrong. If this flag is indeed in danger of becoming the exclusive property of racists, thugs and conspiracy theorists, that’s all the more reason to reclaim it and wrest it back.

Remember how unironically we waved that flag at the 2012 Olympics? How we whooped when the 'Queen' and 'James Bond' opened their red white & blue parachutes? How the flag stood for a nation confident and relaxed enough in its own identity to send itself up?

That’s the flag I’m waving. The flag of self-deprecating humour. The flag of knowing just how seriously to take yourself. The flag of dazzling multi-culturalism. The flag of city centres where you can eat food from all corners of the world and hear every accent spoken. The flag of the NHS and the thousands of immigrants who staff it.

The flag of punk rock and the Last Night of the Proms. The flag of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a thousand sweaty pub backroom comedy clubs. The flag of acid house and Greensleeves. The flag of Doctor Who. The flag of the village green and the tower block. The flag of Paddington Bear, god damn it.

That’s my Britain and I know it’s still out there. I may not have done much travelling these last ten months but over the 25 years prior to that I probably saw more of this country than anyone who doesn’t have an HGV licence, and I know - I know - that there’s so much more to Britain, much more to us, than the little Englanders would have us believe.

So I’m leaving that flag in my Twitter handle. I’m not afraid or ashamed to fly it and you shouldn’t be either.

What do you think? Have your say on this and more by emailing letters@theneweuropean.co.uk

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