Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A weekend of Brexit ponderings

It has been another Brexit emotional roller coaster of a weekend.



Thomas and I were invited to a Brexit focus group being run by Birmingham university to share our personal issues with others whose lives are affected in the same or similar ways. The group consisted of a Belgian woman with a Belgian partner and two young kids based in London for the last 20 years, a Swedish grandmother-to-be who came to Scotland in the early 90s and raised her family with her Scottish husband, a middle-aged Hungarian woman who had been here five years with her four kids, a young Spanish man in his early twenties who moved here with his father when he was a young teenager and went through the Scottish high school system, and finally Thomas who has been here since 2002.

It became clear that every case was unique. That might be the reason this one-size-fits all has so many people falling through the gaps... In the world of Theresa May, our situation is black and white, in the real world we are every shade of grey, and families like ours, which she once sneered at for being citizens of nowhere, are actually proud to be citizens of everywhere, part of an intricate web of nations that we call family.

The Belgian had had her kids in Belgium as it was an hour away on the train, but that meant her children had no claim on being British despite having lived all but the first two days of their lives here. They will not be able to make a case for being British for ten and fourteen years respectively. The woman would never have popped home in labour if she'd known the enormity of the consequences for her family, of course.

The Swede's parents are still alive but in their mid-90s. She had assumed that as she herself reached retirement age she could nip over occasionally and help them whenever they became frail, but even six months away would nullify her 30 years in the UK and she would be ineligible to return despite having a British husband and kids, so she is unable to care for her relatives under the new rules. She had already acquired the right to remain before Sweden became a full member but the paperwork has been destroyed so she has no way to prove she can stay.

The Hungarian's youngest child has been here since she was 12, but attends a special school for partially-sighted artists - she has nowhere she can go back to that can accommodate her special needs so she too is in limbo.

The Spanish boy has Scottish qualifications so can't easily return to Spain, but Spain (like several EU nations) doesn't allow dual citizenship, so if he was to apply for naturalisation, he'd lose the right to move back to Spain at any point in the future and that is where the rest of his family lives. He can't even give returning to Spain a trial run of more than six months as that would nullify his right to remain here with his father and friends, where his qualifications are valid. So he is realistically neither eligible to stay, nor able to leave.

Our own case was the most complex of all, and the most complex the woman in charge of the study had encountered to date... I am a UK citizen, only. Thomas is a Danish citizen, only, but it is more complicated than that...

Despite being born in Denmark to a Danish mother and having lived there till his 30th birthday, Thomas is not a Dane by birth, but a naturalised Dane. In the 70s, when he was born, a child was assigned the nationality of its father and his father was a German expat in Denmark when he was born. When his father naturalised Danish when Thomas was around ten, Thomas and his sister were forced to lose their German citizenship and gain Danish. This makes Thomas's Danish citizenship more precarious than anyone else born on the same day in the same hospital to fully Danish parents. On paper, he is an immigrant who naturalised as a Dane. Crazy, or what? When Denmark recently changed its rules to allow dual nationality, he tried to apply to get his original nationality back, but the consulate in Copenhagen has destroyed the paperwork so that is going to be long and cumbersome but necessary... Thomas wants his original nationality back to pass on to the girls. Although they currently hold Danish passports, those will be revoked if they do not move to Denmark before they turn 22. If the UK is still playing silly buggers, they will lose their EU citizenship and freedom of movement at that moment. Germany, like France in the case of my older kids, doesn't revoke nationality once it is acquired, so that is Thomas's reason for pursuing his original nationality. So, those are his complex nationality issues.

His UK issues are numerous too. He originally moved here with a full-time job so worked for seven years for a UK employer. At that point the UK entered a downturn and he was made redundant. He then started up his own company which took a number of years to be anywhere near comparable with his original job. In the meantime he has moved house twice. Paperwork has been lost, pay slips and P60s are gone. Approximately 30% of EU citizens who apply for the right to remain are rejected because of missing paperwork. Ironically, the longer you have been here, the more likely you are to be rejected as the longer the period you have had to lose your paperwork. Although you only need to provide evidence of five years here to be issued with the right to remain (which incidentally costs money and is not valid after Brexit), you actually need to provide full paperwork for the complete duration to be eligible to apply for UK citizenship (that is if you have a spare £1200, and your original country allows dual citizenship and you have all your paperwork and money and time to shell out for language tests and tests to prove you understand life in the UK - where you've been paying taxes since you arrived). And to put it bluntly, who wants to do all that to acquire the right to continue living the way you did freely till two years ago (only with diminished rights)? Until this happened Thomas had the right to bring his parents to live with us if they became frail at some point in the future, now he will lose that right. Many EU citizens would never have moved here and many UK citizens would have never moved abroad, had they known this reciprocal agreement would be withdrawn. We all like to know our parents can be cared for in their old age. Now, we are very stressed at knowing we may have to watch for afar, unable to assist. So, those are his main issues. They are by no means all of our complications, but they give you a feel for how we are living at the moment.

Then there are mine... I have three kids who aren't his. Two are over eighteen, so technically adults. They were registered as French citizens at the Edinburgh consulate at birth, though they no longer have anything other than a scan of that document. To apply for French citizenship documentation, they need to fly to London and prove they are eligible. This is costly but doable if they want to retain their right to freedom of movement. But one of those kids is twelve. At twelve he needs his biological father to countersign the documents in his name in order to be given a French passport. He has not seen his father since he was six years old, so this would mean tracking him down, which we have recently managed to do, flying him from his home in South East France (at our expense) and us from here to London and meeting up. This would have a huge emotional impact on the child, forcing him to confront a past that he may want to leave till he is older and more emotionally equipped to deal with the fall-out. As if Brexit itself isn't stressful enough for families like ours. As if potentially losing your home, extended family, friends, school, country and siblings wasn't already enough...

So if I can get Léon's paperwork in order and the two biggies can do that for themselves, then the only (ha!) remaining issue is that I lose my freedom of movement on 29 March 2019 so if we decide it is going to become impossible for a family like ours to continue living in this country, ironically I need to escape by that date, even if the others can allow themselves to stay longer to see what is happening.

If I need to flee first, I will become landlocked where I touch down as I will lose my freedom of movement for approximately five years until I can apply for the nationality where I have moved to. This means I need to preempt where Thomas is most likely to find a decent job, and the kids will be able to adapt to a new school system and even potentially a new language. Obviously, I'll need to polish up my crystal ball.

We've already heard of banks refusing to renew mortgages of EU citizens as their status is unclear; our current package runs out next summer, so if we become ineligible for a new package, we could be forced out of the home we have been paying for since before Anna was born and all through no fault of our own.

So we risk having to lose our home, being forced to close down a company we've spent nine years building up, look for two new jobs in the same country(!), move our kids school and change their primary language, split our family for a minimum of four years as Charlotte will already be at university here when we need to go. And realistically, it could mean splitting our family forever... will they really follow us after four years study here?

Those of you who are not directly affected by the Brexit vote can go weeks without it being top of your agenda, those of us in mixed families have lived it and breathed it every day since June 23 2016. That makes 642 days where it has been the only or at least main topic of conversation and take it from me, that makes it bloody tiring. It is the first thing I think about when I waken up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed. I dream about losing my home and my kids, about not being to help my mum who lives alone, three streets from me. We spend a minimum of two hours a day talking it through - that is 1284 hours and counting! Everything is on hold; I can't buy a new blind for my dining room - what's the point if we might have moved within the year? I won't even plant new bulbs in my garden. Everything seems temporary and fluid. When you are as directly affected us, you know every detail and every twist and turn. You know every company that has left and every drop in the pound.

Everything in my life is beyond my control and some days I just want to gain back that power. Some days I think, today, I'm going to leave because you've broken me and I can't face this level of uncertainty any more. Other days, I think, they must surely come to their senses and stop this madness. Companies are leaving, students are no longer applying, doctors and professors are leaving the UK behind, house prices are falling, inflation in the supermarkets is hitting crazy figures. Butter has jumped from 85p to £1-45 in Aldi in just 16 months. Medicine prices are set to spiral. Ireland... I don't even need to explain that one. We hear of foreign interference, of illegal vote rigging and all sorts and still both May and Corbyn bungle on towards the abyss.

If I sell my house, rip my family in two and drag my kids out of their school only to see it all cancelled I will be devastated, if I stay and this goes ahead, I will be devastated. I go round and round on this merry-go-round till I can hardly breathe.

It felt good on Friday to talk to others in our situation. No one really understands and as I rant daily on Facebook and Twitter, I am, at best, ignored. But speaking to people who could relate to it also meant allowing myself to be affected by them and that is emotionally draining.

Saturday saw the March for Europe all over the UK (not that you'd know from watching the BBC, which now openly blanks everything that does not suit its agenda). The speakers were wonderful and very articulately explained the catastrophic effect this will have on the younger generation, my children.

Patrick Harvie really summed up the anger I feel at losing my freedom of movement. For me, it is personal. For me it is saying that the way I have lived my adult life is no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated in my children's generation. I cannot accept that and hope I never have to, but unlike Patrick, I am willing to move and change nationality, if that is the only way.

Professor Tanja Bueltmann spoke to me like a family member - a foreigner who has made her home here, as my husband (and the one before him) did. I was very taken by her summing up that Brexit means a future built on the foundation of hate and lies (and Cambridge analytica by the looks of it). Brexit means a future that relies on chlorinated chicken and holding hands with a Putin puppet. Brexit means a future that seeks to recreate a past that never existed in the first place. Brexit means a future that will rob Britons and young Britons in particular of a world of opportunities and of rights. Brexit means a future for the few and not the many. Make no mistake and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Mike Galsworthy from Scientists for the EU spoke passionately of why this is madness and the effects already hitting the scientist and medicine community.

Each of them, and the other speakers explained clearly why we must stay angry and fight this until we run out of time and then we should continue to fight it still.

By the end of the weekend, I was emotionally exhausted, deeply depressed, exhilarated, full of hope, full of fear and I had aged about a year. I will keep muddling on for now and may still jump ship before it is too late, but I will never be guilty of apathy, at least.

1 comment:

Barry Howard said...

Thank you for writing this I can sympathise with your situation, my family are in a similar (but not as complex position). My wife is Scottish and I am Irish. Although the the common travel area exists between Ireland and the UK people seem to assume that it was completely frictionless prior to Ireland and the UK joining the EEC/EU, it wasn't. My mother recently passed away and I have been travelling backwards and forwards in order to sort out the house and it's contents. As I write this I am currently in Ireland going through boxes of my mum's belongings and old family heirlooms deciding what I can or have space to keep and what to get rid of. Everyone goes through this at some stage in their life but what complicates this for me is Brexit. Do I take the stuff with me or do I leave it here because we might be moving to Ireland. Your sense of being in limbo really resonates with me as I feel the same. Brexit is all I think about at the moment, it is all consuming but at the same time totally paralysing because I don't know what to do because any decision that we make as a family has life changing implications.