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EDITIONS
Race Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 13:25 GMT
What makes you British?
The increasing ethnic diversity of British society means it is difficult to define what makes someone British.

Prime Minister Tony Blair says that "blood alone" does not define national identity and that modern Britain was shaped by a "rich mix of all different ethnic and religious origins".

These views were reflected by the Queen, who talked about "our richly multicultural and multifaith society" in her jubilee speech to Parliament.

However, many disagree with these definitions of a multi-cultural Britain.

Research carried out for BBC News Online suggests that the majority of UK residents, of all ethnic backgrounds, support the idea of one national identity.

Seventy-eight percent of people - including a majority across all ethnic groups - think that anyone living in the UK who is not familiar with the British way of life should have to attend citizenship classes.

So what does it mean to be British? Do you feel you are British?


Your e-mails

Marmite, and uneven pavements...
Anon, London, UK

There is nothing truly special about being British - the UK is just one country out of twenty or so in the European Union. We British people should start feeling more "European" rather than British. We should celebrate the heritage and culture of Europe instead of Britain. Why? Firstly, British people come from all over the world. Secondly, the British non-immigrants, the people that have lived in the isles for hundreds of years, are not 100% descendants of the original inhabitants of the Isles - namely Britons and Celts. Rather, the British White are a mixed breed with French blood, German blood, Norse blood, Roman blood, etc.
Yichen Li, UK


When I get off the plane and see all the chocolates I know I' m home.

M Kaloti, Canada
I was born in England form a multicultural background, my father being Palestinian and my mother being half British and half French-Canadian. Having left England when I was ten it has been many years since I have lived in the UK. But when I get off the plane in Heathrow and see all the chocolates I know I' m home. Best of British
M.Kaloti, Canada

My passport... Nothing more, nothing less.
Anon, UK

I was born in England, my birth parents are from Ghana and Finland. I was adopted by white English people who are my dear Mum and Dad. They had 4 of their own children and adopted another girl 1/2 Irish,1/2 Trinidadian. We are all British and proud of it. My parents, sisters, family, education were all given to me by this great country of ours. Long live Britain. I now live in Barbados but Britain will always be home.
Linda Burrows, Barbados

I was born in Afghanistan and came to Britain (legally) as a child with my parents - I am a British Afghan. I am proud to be British and proud to be an Afghan. I value the cultural and religious diversity of the British society. Being a citizen is about making positive contribution to society and living in harmony with others. We Brits moan too much instead of appreciating the good things that we have!!
Safia, London

When people ask me where I am from I say I am British, even though I am of Chinese origin. I am proud to say I am British and have always thought of myself as such. Being British is more than just having a passport, its about caring about what happens to this great country, be it crime, the NHS or immigration. I am proud to come from a country which welcomed my parents and which has given me the freedom to do what I want without being discriminated against because of my sex or race. Being British is having the freedom go about our daily lives without having to worry about our right to democracy, but then protecting it when the need arises. Anybody who cares about this country and what happens in it is British in one way or another.
Michelle Wong, UK


I don't feel a sense of patriotic pride.

Mel, UK
If someone asks me where I come from I would tell them the city I live in I would never say my Nation. I don't feel a sense of Patriotic pride. I certainly wouldn't fall over myself for the monarchy despite all that is said, but nor do I think they are the worst thing happening this century. Mind you, I do think that at times British fashion rocks and we do a mean fish and chips, and a good pint.
mel, UK

Many people in Britain do not know what it means to be British, or to be proud to be British because there is no direction, nothing to unite us all anymore. The Labour driven 'PC' brigade are keen to force 'multiculturalism' on us and define how we are all different, but the key problem is that there is nothing to unite us now, no 'banner' we can all align behind. I think this is an underlying cause to the race troubles we have seen recently. Immigrants coming to live in this country should be encouraged to feel 'British' and share in feeling proud of our glorious history, tolerant society. But they should also be proud of their roots and heritage.
Bob, England

The idea of Britishness as a unique and proud concept is out of date, embarrassing and downright rude to other people with different ethnic backgrounds. Heritage and culture are not important in this modern and enlightened age. The future is important - my future, your future and the future of society as a whole. People need to be more aware of themselves, their capabilities and achievements and not to live in the past.
Paul M Deakins, Manchester, UK


To be British is to be multicultural.

James, UK
To be British is to be multicultural. The 4 nations that make up Britain, each with their own cultures, the many peoples that conquered us in our ancient history and the many we conquered in more recent times have all contributed to our multi-cultural culture and multi-lingual language
James, UK

I think this country has a very good record on race equality and that is what being British is all about. I don't think anyone really has a problem with this, and the government and media are making an issue out of nothing. I think it is a real shame that we British and English should feel intimidated by the fools in our government that tell us that waving our national flag is in some way racist. Get real. Being British should be all about being proud to be a member of the British community, but unfortunately it isn't.
Lee, UK

Being British is being able to moan about anything and everything, and not truly appreciate anything. The weather, the nhs, the roads, the schools, the crime levels - no one can be satisfied with anything. Oh yeah, and there's the monarchy. Everyone seems up for ousting them, but I think for once we ought to be proud and more than content with our royal family. They are British - a unified family with moral values.
Shahid Hussain, UK

I am English and British and in many ways proud of this. I do, however, consider myself more of a European and see this as the future rather than clinging to the past. Much of what once differentiated Britons from other races is now almost irrelevant in a modern multi-cultural world. "Britishness" needs to evolve and to take on the best of the immigrant cultures rather than highlighting the differences between ethnic white Britons and the new British subjects. Sadly many people who propound themselves as British display xenophobia at its worst.
Keith Widdop, England


We're a people of innovation, on a permanent nostalgia trip

Tim Staddon, UK
British characteristics are contradictory - eccentricity with privacy, pride with self-effacement, pragmatism with tradition. We're a people of innovation, on a permanent nostalgia trip.
Tim Staddon, UK

Being British means I would be willing to stand by the country that gave me the freedom and education to form into the honest and hardworking individual that I am.
Anon, UK

As one of those who consider themselves Scottish (I have never considered myself British) my views on what it means to be 'British' will be the same as many from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, that being 'British' equals being English. What is there to be proud of? British achievements throughout the world tend to centre on English ones (especially in sport), whilst support for the Monarchy is stronger in England than elsewhere on these islands. The term 'British' to me is an outdated term that should have died with the Empire. The world has changed so much in the last 100 years that there should not be a place left for outdated institutions such as the monarchy, the House of Lords or for the Union Jack.
Dan Gilfeather, Scotland

If we must define ourselves through nationality, then I define myself as British for this reason: strength, pride, fairness, stubbornness and the British Monarchy!
Esther, UK

When I was growing up I had a great sense of pride in my country, Britain, where I was born. Since I have studied history I have realised that the truth is that we have no more and no less reason pride than any other nation. We've had our share of heroes - often flawed - and our share of innovators and great leaders, but we also have had feckless rulers, demagogues, pirates and despots, and, of course, football hooligans who have given us a terrible reputation throughout the world and are not a source of pride. But I am proud of this extraordinarily ubiquitous language. That separates us from all other nations, because it is becoming the world's mother tongue.
Randy, UK

Why are we asking people to try and make an effort to adopt British culture, when we praise ourselves for being a multicultural society/country? Are we not contradicting ourselves, or maybe we are just showing ourselves up to be the narrow minded arrogant nation we always have been. The British Empire is long gone, it's about time the country grew up, stopped stamping its feet and took a bit of responsibility for a mess for which we only have ourselves to blame.
Rachel Lum Wai, England


Race, birthplace and religion are irrelevant

Anonymous, UK
A true Brit takes pride in his nation's past achievements as well as its enviable position in the world today. In danger he remains loyal and has an abiding faith in the political system and his fellow countrymen. Race, birthplace and religion are irrelevant.
Anonymous, UK

I am British because I was born and educated there. My ancestors are all buried there. Three of my five children were born in the UK before I moved to Australia in 1971. I am happy to be Australian too, and this is a far more multicultural and tolerant country than England.
Richard Hollis, Australia

I don't know what it is to be British any more even though I can trace my family name back to the eleven hundreds in these islands. Ask me that question a few years ago I would have given you a very definite answer but not now. Britain is breaking-up, people who have lived here for generations will happily tell me they are not British, it seems they will call themselves anything but British. Time to put the idea of Britain to bed, put the old bull dog down.
Daivid, England

I consider myself as an individual with my own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. The idea that the position on the globe where I happened to be born can define who I am means nothing to me other than a simple definition of my place of origin. To consider it as a definition of self takes a complete lack of personal identity, imagination and individuality.
James Clark, UK


I've met many others who are of even more varied backgrounds

Emma, UK
With the world becoming a smaller and smaller place, it's becoming more difficult to define yourself by nationality. I'm half French, half English, but was born in Syria, and lived abroad for the first 11 years of my life - I've met many others who are of even more varied backgrounds. Why should I label myself as being just "British"? Maybe I can adopt a common catchphrase, and call myself "multicultural".
Emma, UK

My father left England when he was a boy of 10. My passport says I am a British citizen yet I have never set foot on the island. Am I more British than someone with brown skin who has lived in Britain most of their life but does not have the passport?
A. Cook, New York, USA

What makes me British? The fact that I was born in Britain and have never changed my national status since. End of story.
Jack Rawlinson, UK

One day nobody will spend a lifetime in the same house, town, or country. Nationality will eventually be where you are born and a measure of how much time you spend in each country.
Eddy, UK


That is what makes us all British

S. Chapman, UK
Citizenship classes are not just important for new immigrants into Britain, but they should also be taken by young people in school, as many already do. Being a citizen here means you understand the functions of this country, and its institutions. Learning about parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, what it means to have certain freedoms. That is what makes us all British - the capacity to have a common ground of society, with all of our individual characteristics and merits.
S. Chapman, UK

What makes me British? Nothing. I have lived here for more than 5 years, paid my taxes, earned a living and even "caught" the accent (you wouldn't guess I'm foreign if you heard me!) but I still consider myself Mexican.
Anonymous, England

Three lions on the shirt!
Eddie, UK

Isn't every country a melting pot of sorts? France is just as 'melted' as us, but I bet we have a strong idea of what it means to be French. Therefore, maybe we should ask those outside of Britain what it is to be British. In the end, though, doesn't it just come down to where you are born and which mast you nail your loyalties to?
RB, UK

No matter what religion or colour, a sense of fair play is what sets us apart from other countries. We have our idiots and bigots but for most people fairness is an important part of the character of a true Brit.
Sandra Ward, England

Britain has always been a melting pot. Therefore, any rigid definition of "Britishness" contradicts what this country was founded on.
Barnaby Smith, United Kingdom


The whole foundation of this country would collapse without the input of immigrants

Asif, UK
The race survey makes scary and interesting reading: "almost two-thirds of whites said they believe immigrants do not integrate or make a positive contribution to Britain" - This just shows how high the level of ignorance is amongst the whites in this country. Never mind compulsory English lessons for immigrants - I demand compulsory English history lessons on UK industry for whites. The whole foundation of this country would collapse without the input of immigrants. Their attitude of hard work and commitment (under extremely trying circumstances) has made this country an economic giant, and should be an example to all.

My parents came to this country from Pakistan in 1962 to work in a factory. They have never once claimed housing benefit or dole. They now are close to retirement after building up a successful business and at the same time supporting their families back home and bringing up 3 children here. That's after arriving with nothing but a suitcase. Compare that to the lines of 'true Brits' who queue up at the dole office and refuse to work because they would rather live off the state. I know my parents would be ashamed to do that and would've (and have) taken ANY job. This example is true of hundreds of thousands of immigrants invited here after the war.
Asif, UK

An appreciation of the political and social enlightenment that this country helped produce. Example: Slavery had existed since the beginning of recorded history, until a few good men in this country argued passionately for its abolition, and then sent the Royal Navy around the world to destroy it (in the face of bitter accusations of cultural imperialism from western African states). Such moral strength is a legacy of which we should all be proud.
Gordon McStraun, UK

When, oh when, will the media stop referring to people as black, white, Asian, Indian. Keeping on about what "white people" think or what "black people think" only incites the racial tension -so all media and politicians stop doing it!. What most people, including me, object to are immigrants who come here for the soft touch we have concerning medical treatment and handouts. Stop that and the people who come to this country are genuinely interested in working here and becoming British - most people do not have objections to these type of people, and they are the people who helped make this country the great one it once was.
Mark, UK

God knows what it means to be British today. Fortunately we live in an affluent society, with a lot to be grateful for compared to most of the world. But I think we have lost something along the way. People always look back with rose-coloured glasses, but maybe things actually were better: safer, more community minded, people more bothered about each other.
Justin, England


Identity comes from within and as such is defined by how one lives one life

Brendan Fernandes, UK
Blair is correct that blood does not matter - in fact, the notions of national, racial and ethnic identity are totally unhelpful. Identity comes from within and as such is defined by how one lives one life, not who our parents were or where we live - we can do nothing about where we were born or what colour we are - so how can we use race/nationality to define people? It is the very existence of these terms that leads to much mischief. For example, the word "multiculturalism" is often used to imply that "different people are from different cultures and we should grin and bear it". This is just silly, and really we need a new word to describe the notion of "freedom of choice without feeling constrained by one's own background or origin, and without losing one's sense of social responsibility". Perhaps "social individualism" comes closest to describing this concept?
Brendan Fernandes, UK

What Makes Me British? A Little maroon book with British Passport printed on the front.
Andy, UK


Many people in this country are descendents of Vikings, Norman French, Romans, Saxons and so on

W Tale, UK
"Being British" may, usually, be an unimportant concept. However, at times of National emergency and awareness - i.e. war or World Cups - the term does become important. One might expect that "being British" meant, for example, supporting any British team in the football World Cup. However, many Scottish and Welsh people are not prepared to support England. Are these people not British? Many people hate football and, whilst in general terms hope that England will win, could not really care less. Are these people not British? What about the location of where one is born? Sir Cliff Richard was born in India. Is he not British? What about food. The UK's favourite take-away is "curry". Are people eating this type of food not British?

Many people in this country are descendents of Vikings, Norman French, Romans, Saxons and so on. Are these people not British? We could persist. The only real thing that one can say is that it is impossible to construct any meaningful definition of a specific nationality. Indeed, with conquests and invasions stretching back throughout history, it probably always has been. So, like a football team, we have to say that if you want to be part of the team or a supporter and you are prepared to abide by the rules and offer wholehearted support- not necessarily unquestioning allegiance - you may, for example, think that the manager should be sacked for the good of the club - then you are part of that tribe. Nationality, after dismissing all the alternatives, is closest to this.
W Tale, UK

I struggled to feel British before events like the Queen Mother`s funeral, since them I have felt an increasing sense of British identity. Up until then I have always seen myself as European, as my ancestors were Italian, Irish and French.
Claire Taylor, UK

As far as I can see, what makes someone British (or Irish, French, German etc for that matter) is simply where we come from. Some believe it's more a question of heritage, to which I must raise the following argument: If an immigrant married a native and they had a child, would this child of mixed heritage be classified as British? If not, then how would you identify him/her?
Anonymous, UK

I m not British but I studied in UK for six years. I would agree that Britain has the higher capability of cultural integration then any other country in Europe. But the question has many open parameters. The ideas of - citizenship, nationality, cultural/ religious identity, are different but also interrelated in a society. Within "federal" Europe we may think these issues may be solved easily, but again we have to define what is the target. To integrate the others in a society with a dominant culture or to accept to be integrated also. Because, if the target is a society with the "British way of life" to be a prerequisite then we can not talk for a multicultural society but just for a multinational one. Under this scope the idea for "citizenship classes" looks strange to me.
Dimitrios, Greece.

I'm half British, half Dutch and although I have lived in the Netherlands all my life (18 years), I still feel more connected to Britain in an emotional way. I can't explain it, it's just there. So yes, I feel British, and my British passport underlines that.
Matt Hiscock, The Netherlands

What makes me British? I was born here!
Jon Crawford, UK


To be British is to adopt some of the cultures that exist in this land and not simply set up enclaves

John W, Liverpool, UK
If you come to Britain and carry on as if you were in your old nation then you are not British. To be British is to adopt some of the cultures that exist in this land and not simply set up enclaves. At the very least there must be a respect for British laws and customs and I am afraid that certain religions are not very compatible with the western lifestyle.
John W, Liverpool, UK

As a white Anglo Saxon male, one of the much hated and maligned breed, I believe that what makes you British is simply your acknowledgement that that is who you want to be. If your prepared to defend the culture and the values of that culture. Then that's who you are. It's about language, shared values and a love of the land. Not the pomp and circumstance of state but a deep abiding love of this little corner of the world and a willingness to preserve the best of it.
Richard Hammond, UK


Britishness is being eroded into a term meaning you reside in Britain

John Scott, UK
I don't think anybody knows what being British is anymore. Certainly not the race relations industry or PC brigade. Their overworked mantra is 'Britain is a multi-cultural society we should celebrate our difference.' In the next breath, they say the exact opposite- that we are all the same, you should be ashamed of your heritage and it's wrong to be isolationist. They say we should have secular schools but it's okay to have religious schools. We should have a level playing field but believe in positive discrimination. Orwell's doublethink had nothing on this lot. Britishness is being eroded into a term meaning you reside in Britain. It is not allowed to have any more connotations. If you are unfortunate enough to be white and born in England you cannot be English either. Proud to be English equals intolerant racist.
John Scott, UK

As I am half Scottish and half English, I consider myself to by British. I can trace my ancestors on both sides back almost 300 years. Not only am I British, I am consider myself to be an "indigenous" Brit.
Mike Wilson, Britain

Britain is and has always evolved from new cultures and some forms of immigration. It is stronger, more adaptable than many other countries and better for it. I do not always agree with Americans but the Naturalisation and Citizenship procedures which mean some study of the nations history, language and a swearing of allegiance to the Flag is commendable. And a British version of this would be a good thing. This is not to say that we don't want new experiences and cultures but have respect for the host country, learn its language and customs. I live in Japan, I have tried to adapt and have respect for a culture which seems very different to me, but I can learn from it.
John, Japan

To me, being British means having been born in the United Kingdom or dependent territories and holding a British passport. It does not say anything about the colour of your skin, or your blood, or your subscription to a certain way of life. If we remember this, we might not have so many racial problems.
Simon Botley, Malaysia (ex-UK)

To be British is to love Britain, to defend Britain, and to support Britain. To pay British taxes and to aim for a better Britain. Anyone who comes to Britain with this sentiment is British. Nobody gets squatter's rights. There should be no such thing as Indian-British, Pakistani British, West Indian British, African British. If you want to live in Britain, be British, don't live here and preach how great your country of origin is. If it was that great you'd still be there.
Chris R, UK

Standing up for this land, regardless of race, gender, or age.
Marc, Brighton, UK


The essence of British culture is that relaxed but relentless urge to do things as well as possible

John Lloyd-Jones, Wales
Wherever I go and however much I may criticise Britain today, I carry with me the culture that I grew up in. I nurture the best of it and try to pass it on to my daughters. The city I grew up in, Cardiff, was, in my school days, harmonious, multicultural and peaceful. Today, with an Indian wife and an American address, I feel sad and shameful at the racial unrest I see in the UK. Yet the true essence of British culture survives; as much, or more, in exile as in the homeland. The gift of the British culture should be made available to all who wish; to make it compulsory to immigrants would defeat the purpose. The essence of British culture is that relaxed but relentless urge to do things as well as possible.
John Lloyd-Jones, Wales

As an ex-pat living abroad, it is important to remember one's own culture and background whilst at the same time, respecting and attempting to integrate into my new resident country's society. Generally, being British appears to receive respect from people of many different nationalities BUT I do wish that people would stop asking if I am a "football hooligan". Sometimes we forget how far reputations can travel. I have attended language and cultural classes as part of my "integration" into Finnish society which were provided free by the Finnish state. I attended those courses with many others from Russia, Estonia, America, Greece, Kosovo etc. of which the majority agreed that the courses were essential for giving us the necessary language and cultural information for living and working in our new country.
Chas. Dermott, Finland

Being of foreign origin, now nationalized, I think that what made me British is the love I felt for this country, and the wish to be part of it.
Luis Lozano, London (originally from Mexico)

You are British if born in Britain, pure and simple. Being English is different and needs a racial qualification as the English are a Germanic peoples originally from Angleholm. Now, immigration from Scandinavia (the Vikings for instance) or Flanders, German, even Northern France means that the racial origins have but a small variation, but from Africa or India? No. British they can be, English never, until their decendants have intermarried enough to have more English blood than that of other folk.
Geoff Boxell, New Zealand/England


I live in Japan and often give the answer London, when asked where I am from

Tom, UK
Let's see: a common language, a common culture, a shared history, to live on the same island and be part of the same socio-economic political system. How much of these really ring true? Geographic and socio-political commonality can make someone a British citizen. There are many strong dialects in Britain, are the Scottish, Welsh or Indian dialects closer to the Queen's English than those of America, Australia or South Africa? Much the same could be said of culture. Shared history? Much of the history shared between England and Scotland, for example, is one of military conflict.

Much of the shared history and culture of the divergent parts of Britain are from the last 250-300 years, i.e. since Britain was a political unit. Not to discount the events of this period, but many people feel more English, Scottish, Welsh, Indian, and Chinese... than British. And, it goes deeper than that. London, where I am from, for example is in many ways so different to the rest of the country. I live in Japan and often give the answer London, when asked where I am from. I am sure that others will feel differently.
Tom, UK

I am British through being born in the United Kingdom and also, despite sadness at Britain's current social decay, by loyalty to the constitutional balance of this country that tends to reduce social conflict. In particular, I value the monarchy as a stabilising influence on the relentless succession of differing elected governments. It seems to me at least that Britain is well served by the Queen, and by Prince Charles, both of whom have promoted an inclusiveness which embraces and welcomes all ethnic groups in this country. Let's all work to that purpose. Besides, what would our city architecture be like today if it were not for Prince Charles's timely intervention? One way we could improve this nation for everyone who lives here would be to give more attention to the countryside, which seems little understood by the urban-minded Cabinet currently in power. We have a beautiful and potentially productive countryside. But it needs more empathetic support from the chattering classes than it currently receives.
Rob, UK

You can make as many speeches and give out as many pieces of paper as you want, but in the end nationality is always defined by your roots, blood and heritage. We can see this in Britain and other European countries where the majority of non-European immigrants live in their own, mostly unintegrated areas, and retain strong cultural, language and travel links to their ethnic homelands. This is partly because the majority of whites do not accept them as British but also because most of them do not accept themselves as British; in short, unchangeable human nature.
tom, UK


The concept of Britain being a "multi-cultural society" is ludicrous

Adam, England
The concept of Britain being a "multi-cultural society" is ludicrous. The British culture consists of fish and chips and afternoon tea. Asylum seekers and immigrants should be welcomed with open arms, but only if they are willing to adapt to our culture and show a genuine interest in being British, whatever that means these days. Segregation of communities also needs to stop, as it breeds ignorance and distrust. I think we need to adopt the "all for one, one for all" approach.
Adam, England

There is no one thing to define being British. Our society and culture is forever changing. One thing that should be common to all is a respect for the country and for all who live in it. Surely, tolerance, politeness and respect are the most British of qualities?
Jonny, Japan

I was going to say that being British implies certain values, a certain degree of civilisation, and a desire for decency, fair play and respect. But then I thought of the BNP members, football hooligans, yobs and generally unpleasant people who also inhabit this country. Unfortunately, they are technically British too. Which leaves me with a problem when it comes to defining Brutishness. I do believe in more integration, definitely. Mr Gurbux Singh and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali are models of what an integrated person from an ethnic minority should be like - exactly the same as everyone else. Once everyone speaks the Queen's English, no-one lives in separate ethnic communities and everyone is proud to be British, then we will laugh at the very idea of judging someone on the colour of their skin. I look forward to that day. Then we can finally get rid of political correctness, and we can all say 'nitty-gritty' once more without anyone taking offence.
Edward, UK

Born in Britain, but am Australian. And a very proud Australian. I would say the defining element of Britishness is the inability to play sport, and general girlish behaviour.
Tom Elder, US (Australian)

Freedom of speech. Freedom of movement. Freedom of Action within the confines of law. The ability to participate in well regulated Secret Ballot for positions of Social Responsibilty.
Richard MacLachlan, SCOTLAND

Given that Britons now come in all religions, colours and philosophies... there only seems to be one thing that all Brits have in common: the accent. Blindfold someone and introduce them to everybody in the country, and they'd all sound roughly the same, even if they look totally different. The British accent shows they've grown up here and share a common home.
A. Dryden, York, UK

Race UK
BBC News Online examines race in modern Britain
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What makes you British?
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From BBCi
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See also:

11 Oct 00 | UK
28 Mar 00 | Politics
25 Oct 00 | Health
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