Dr Peter Burke


Having grown up in Dublin with a German mother and an Irish father, I am a proud European and part of the Irish diaspora.

What we learned at school about Irish people living in the UK, was that the generation before me was escaping the Irish austerity of the post war years, many to go over to work on building sites or on the railways, often leaving their families behind and sending home their wage packets.

Then, they were often treated badly by landlords and employers. Today, the demographics of the exiles and, I would like to think, the reception they are given, have changed greatly.

My own first experience of working in the UK was spending six months as a casualty officer in East Belfast in 1979. Although it was the height of the troubles, and I was probably the only Southern Catholic for miles around in that part of Belfast, I was made welcome and made many good friends.

I completed my hospital training in Ireland and my wife, Geraldine, and I moved over to Cheshire in 1982. The intention was to move for one year, but that has turned into 38 years so far and counting. We have since lived in Hampshire and are now settled in Oxford.

The principal attraction for me was working in the NHS and being able to treat all patients equally regardless of ability to pay. At the time I was very taken by the go getting, joined-up and collaborative nature of healthcare in the UK and the strength of public health. Ironic to think of that now.

Over my 38 years in the UK we have hugely enjoyed living here. Both the environment and the people have been hugely inspiring, we have made many friends and all three of our children have grown up here. Although scattered about the world they still consider Oxford home, and therefore so do we.

For me, as for many European expats, the 2016 referendum changed everything. In my heart I thought such an act of xenophobic self-harm would be a step too far for any sensible nation. And up to that point the image of British people around the world was one of sense and pragmatism. Perhaps I made the mistake of thinking that Oxford was typical.

I was part of the Remain campaign and put every available hour into it. Although it failed I will always be glad I tried. I have continued to be an activist and am now chair of Oxford for Europe.

Now that Brexit is a fact on the ground our mission is one of damage limitation. So we are working to fight for an extension of the transition period, to maintain links with our friends in the EU27, and to help to protect the rights of European Nationals in the UK.

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