Over the 12 days of Christmas, HuffPost UK is hosting a series of blogs from people at the centre of 2018′s biggest news stories. Today, EU citizens’ rights campaigner and academic Tanja Bueltmann writes on how this could the last Christmas before EU nationals like her face upheaval. To find out more about the series, follow our hashtag #HuffPost12Days
2018 has been a rollercoaster ride for EU citizens at home in the UK and our British friends who live in another EU country. We can measure the year as another 365 days in limbo, taking us to over 900 days in total. We can measure it in the number of EU citizens who chose to leave the UK because they had enough of the uncertainty and the hostility. We can measure it in yet more hate directed at us, from being called queue-jumpers by the Prime Minister to being pitted against other immigrants by Labour’s Diane Abbott. And we can measure it in milestones, from the draft Withdrawal Agreement to the final deal.
But none of these measures truly capture what 2018 has been like for us. The struggle for citizens’ rights has been consistently uphill, every little glimmer hope wiped out each and every time by reality. The citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement is very problematic, but it could have finally given some certainty had UK and EU leaders chosen to ring-fence it to make sure citizens’ rights are protected regardless of what happens next. But they failed to do that.
As a result, five million people are haunted not by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, but by the mantra that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Coupled with the knowledge that negotiators from both sides care more about goods than people, we are now going into our third Christmas of uncertainty, and the outlook has never been darker.
This year we were made collateral of Brexit. For us, Brexit is not something that might happen in about 100 days. It has been happening for over 900 days already. And that has taken a toll this year that is far too high.
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There are people who do not know at all whether the life they lead today will still be theirs at the end of March 2019. There are people who have been at home in the UK for decades who are now forced to apply if they want to stay. There are people who happily tell us to our faces that us having to apply to stay is right.
Many tell me that that the latter is not a majority view. I used to believe that. But the reality of this year is that the number of people publicly standing with us remains very small. For me personally, that is the most devastating thing of all: I can deal with Brexit — a populist right-wing coup. I can deal with threats. But I cannot deal with the apathy. If ever I were to choose to leave, that apathy – not Brexit in itself – would be why.
All of these practical concerns are outweighed, however, by the impact on the people. As one EU citizen noted in a tweet recently, as she was filling in her settled status application she suddenly started to cry — in the middle of her HR department where she had gone to apply. The UK, she explained, has been her home for a decade, but it no longer feels like home.
Most worryingly, we are seeing a return to the rhetoric of 2016. Again cast as a problem, I am very worried about what this is going to lead to. By failing to have a progressive debate about freedom of movement over the last two years, no resilience has been built up against a repeat of 2016. If there is a People’s Vote — one from which we would likely be excluded — I fear the backlash for EU citizens will be severe.
That is why even I am now struggling to find the words to describe all this. I keep wondering: what will it take for people to wake up to the destructive forces of Brexit? This is a question that applies generally, but with respect to citizens’ rights it is a critical one. People can no longer cope. And if the uncertainty is not ended, if five million lives continue to be used for political games, the consequences will be devastating. For some they already are. From accounts of sleepless nights, to constant crying, to suicidal thoughts: as I look back on this year I can say that I have never before seen so much despair, so much anxiety and so much fear.
On a personal leveI, I can add another layer to the story that I wish did not exist. From serious threats, to lengthy descriptions of my rape; from an incident that required police intervention to an online attack from hundreds of accounts that usually spread pro-Kremlin propaganda, I have seen things this year I thought I would never see. This is not simply my story, however. It is Brexit in a nutshell: hate, lies and manipulations. Those are not the right foundations to build a future on.
As the year comes to a close I am desperately trying to find some words of hope. But I am afraid this year the reality is that I really cannot find them anymore.