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Brexit Uncertainty Prompts Villagers In Pencaitland, East Lothian, To Show Solidarity With EU Nationals

'This is the right thing to do'.

15/03/2017 17:23 | Updated 16 March 2017

A tiny Scottish village is showing solidarity with EU nationals, who face an uncertain future thanks to Brexit.

Jim Fraser, a 59-year-old market researcher who has lived in Pencaitland, East Lothian for around a decade, was “in shock” in June at the referendum result.

Fraser, who is pro-EU and pro-independence, took his nine-year-old daughter Cissy to a pro-EU demonstration in nearby Edinburgh the day after the vote, where she carried a placard saying “This Is Europe”. 

Jim Fraser
Cissy, Jim Fraser's nine-year-old daughter, holds her placard at a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament

He spoke to his French neighbour, who has lived in Scotland for 20 years, had three children there, and feared what Brexit would mean for her.

Feeling the issue was still unresolved and under-discussed eight months later, Fraser set up a Facebook group at the start of March and circulated a “statement of concern” for people to sign.

“We believe the government must now... Treat our friends with the compassion they surely deserve and grant them the right to remain in the UK,” the document said, urging people to put their name to it. 

“It was a situation where I thought [about] how could we put a bit of an arm round our next door neighbour and eight or 10 EU nationals that live in the village to let them know we care,” Fraser told HuffPost UK by phone.

This village has around 1,700 people, just big enough for a primary school and a pub. Fraser hoped at least 20 villagers would sign. So far, after 10 days, 52 families there have. It leaves Fraser thinking: “Well, that’s a lot in a wee place.”

“People signed it with alacrity. They hadn’t really realised what the situation was,” he said.

It may not have as many signatories as headline-grabbing petitions but Fraser thinks getting that many from one small place - a community that centres on a pub, a school and a post office - can mean more.

He was among the 1.85 million Brits who signed the petition calling for Donald Trump’s state visit to be cancelled.

He added: “You kind of think, even 1.85 million doesn’t mean anything to anyone but 50 people in the village, who can’t all get into the Spar at the same time, that means something... 

“The way I visualise it is, you can bump into them in the street. That kind of human interaction, 52 families is not a big number but, in a village, it’s a big number. When you get the names and put out something with everyone’s name on it. I think that makes it real.”

EU Are Not Alone
The approximate addresses of the households that have signed up, mapped over the an aerial shot of the village

He is regularly updating the numbers who have signed and mapping out signatures over an aerial photo of the village, with little EU flags on their addresses.

Fraser said he thought he would have had a similarly positive response, anywhere else in the UK. He said: “The human compassion issue is the central thing... It’s a kind of natural justice.”

Fraser, who has “voted for every party that’s come along apart from the Tories”, said alleviating EU nationals’ uncertainty was not a party political issue or one of where people stood on Brexit.

“Probably something will be worked out but, because it’s so uncertain, it’s very difficult to know,” he said.

“[My French neighbour] was on to her dad in Bordeaux. He was saying ‘I’m sure you’ll be alright’. But her daughter, who’s at a secondary school, was saying ‘mum, what’s going to happen to you?’

“No one’s thinking about ‘what’s the human cost of this?’

“No one’s thinking about ‘what’s the human cost of this?’ They’re just thinking about ‘well, we’re going through a hard negotiation. We’ve got to use anything we can’ I imagine.”

Fraser said his neighbour was “charmed” by people in the village signing it. “She said: ‘Oh that’s marvellous that people care’. Of course we don’t really talk about it very much. We’re all very British, even in Scotland... She said: ‘It’s so good to know’.

“We’re now trying to find everyone in the village to make sure we get to everyone who’s a foreign-born EU national to make sure they know.”

Fraser has so far only spread the message online, posting in places like the Facebook pressure group for EU nationals. “Even the odd quick post on there will get 50 people liking it. It’s just to get them to know that they’re not forgotten about,” Fraser said.

He has spoken to the local Catholic church in the next village, who are keen to help spread the message, and plans to speak to the village’s church, which belongs to the Church of Scotland, which came out in favour of letting EU nationals stay last July.

The local paper is about to publish an article and signatories have just gathered at the village’s ancient cross for a group photo. People across Britain and as far away as New Jersey have signed the statement. 

“The more we can get, the better. It can only go up,” Fraser added.

Jim Fraser
Families who signed the statement of concern gather at Pencaitland Cross

Fraser said he was always interested in politics but became more active in the 2014 independence referendum, in which he backed a Yes vote. He is still “definitely a Yes” and thinks the Scottish Government sincerely tried to protect EU nationals’ rights by preserving Scotland’s place in the Single Market.

Fraser watched with anguish the parliamentary “ping pong” of the Article 50 bill. The Lords attached an amendment to guarantee EU nationals’ right to remain, only for MPs to reject it and the Lords to approve the bill without it.

Fraser added: “When you knew [the amendment] wasn’t going to last long, that was quite hard.”

Fraser maintains Scotland’s referendum was not as bitter as has been depicted and, as such, was not surprised to get such a positive response to his campaign.

He said: “There’s been no negative response at all from anyone. The Scottish referendum was actually remarkably jolly... Everyone really respected each other.

“There was a little bit of shouting at the edges from idiots. The core of it was really well behaved and very grown up and open minded and open hearted.

“I wasn’t really expecting any negativity and there really hasn’t been. Everyone who’s even heard of it has said: ‘We should say this. This is the right thing to do’.”

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