In a week where Theresa May is launching the Article 50 application of the United Kingdom of Great Britain to “opt out” of the EU, I am pleased to report that I have personally decided to “opt in” to the EU before the UK triggers the formal legal process of leaving.
Last week, I received a letter from my commune notifying me that my application has been approved by the Belgian Government to become a Belgian citizen, thereby allowing me to continue to enjoy the freedoms of an EU citizen and to promote the rights and values that I share with my fellow citizens of Belgium and the EU. Of course, I opened a bottle of fine Belgian beer to celebrate.
I have lived here and paid my taxes in Belgium longer than anywhere else in the world; in return, this country has been generous enough to give me a home where I have brought up and educated my family, and where I have developed my own uniquely Belgian business. I therefore naturally have a fond affection for Belgium; our family feels welcome and at home here. We are a typical multilingual family in Brussels, speaking 3 or 4 languages with ties to different EU Member States and who all have a strong attachment to the community that has helped us to settle in our adoptive country.
This in no way detracts from my historical loyalties to the United Kingdom and to my native Scotland. I am not guided by the narrow-minded isolationist and selfish doctrines of nationalism, I am guided by international ideas and principles; I am first and foremost a European, but remain also proudly Scottish, British, and now Belgian, with international loyalties to the principles that I hold dear.
My Scottish ancestors go back hundreds of years. Eight generations ago in the late 1700s, a Great Uncle of mine (also named James Wilson) emigrated to Pennsylvania as a young lawyer from Saint Andrews, and became one of the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America. He was an immigrant, and one who made a significant contribution to the ideals and principles that have shaped one of the world’s great democracies. I am immensely proud of his achievements, which were made possible by the receptiveness and openness of the society that took him under its wing. I aspire to follow in his footsteps here in Belgium, and to contributing to the greater good of of my chosen community.
Whilst I am personally disappointed by the future direction that the UK Government has decided to take, and I believe that this is a strategic mistake, I am nevertheless happy that the European values and rights on offer to the citizens of Belgium are exactly those which I am very proud to share and to promote. I shall remain loyal to them.
I thank Belgium for giving me the chance to do precisely that. This in no way contradicts what I believe is best for Europe, Scotland and for the United Kingdom. Whatever happens in the future, I shall always be an advocate of forever stronger ties between Belgium, Scotland, Britain the United States of America, Canada and the free world.
So as we enter the opening chapter of the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” Negotiations, please remember that there are many British friends of the European Union, like the Wilson family in Belgium, who are still proud and loyal supporters of the European Union and its Member States, no matter what actions are taken by the current UK government to opt out of the Union.