The Prime Minister’s mission is to deliver Brexit and bring an end to Freedom of Movement “once and for all.” She claims that the injunction to end Freedom of Movement is an instruction from the people in the 2016 referendum, despite many leave voters believing some in the Leave campaigns that the UK would remain in the Single Market, which requires it, and that little would change. It is an example of epic astroturfing by an immigration-obsessed Prime Minister.
Worse yet, she has doubled-down on her determination to deliver this even if it means a catastrophic No Deal Brexit for the UK. To even contemplate a No Deal, particularly when we now know (thanks to the ECJ’s judgment that Article 50 can be unilaterally revoked) that it would be a conscious political choice to do so, is an act of startling irresponsibility to the people of the UK.
There are few for whom the extent of this irresponsibility is more stark than the 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU27, and our friends, the more than three million EU27 citizens in the UK. Remember that Brexiteers have consistently accused those worried about citizens’ rights post-Brexit of hysterical scaremongering, and Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and others in the Leave campaigns flat out lied that the Vienna Convention would guarantee both groups’ current rights. The Prime Minister has said that our lives will continue just as before.
While the Withdrawal Agreement falls very far short of meeting the promises made, it does offer some protection. No deal however does not. EU citizens have little to comfort them but the barely credible guarantees of a Prime Minister who created the “hostile environment” and whose stated aim is to make sure as few of their compatriots as possible come to the UK in the future.
The Commission issued a Communication yesterday confirming that No Deal would make UK Citizens in the EU 3rd country nationals overnight. It will then be up to individual EU member states to legislate and put systems in place to ensure that we are still legal residents on the 30th March 2019. No one with permanent residence should legally have to leave, but this relies on member states getting this right in a startlingly short period of time.
They have 15 weeks. In Belgium, where things tend to take time, this seems a particularly tall order. Even if the legislation can be put in place in time, despite the Belgian Government just having resigned, nearly 600 communes would have to adopt new procedures.
I’m self-employed and I have no idea whether I’ll be able to work on the 30th March. If the system is not in place, I’ll be on the wrong register, and the business registration and VAT numbers linked to my ID card and registration number may no longer be valid. Maybe they will. I’m an EU expert, and I have no idea.
I’m one of the lucky ones. My wife is an EU citizen, so I’m sure I will be able to stay. Many of my friends are musicians, self-employed with precarious incomes and disorganised or incomplete documentation. Others are single or in “two-Brit” couples and have no idea what their future holds. They worry daily about whether it’s just their job that’s at risk (will their qualifications be recognised?), or whether they will be able to stay in their home at all.
For some, the situation is beyond impossible. One friend in the UK, who is a full time carer along with her Dutch husband, has no idea whether he and her Dutch children would have to move to the Netherlands, and whether, if they did, she would be allowed to go with them. Another already resident in the Netherlands, where she cares for her sick husband, knows that if she goes back to the UK to care for her elderly parents he will not meet the salary requirements to go with her. Nobody should have to make, or even fear having to make, those choices. It is inhuman. A travesty. It’s making people sick.
And remember, the hostile environment in the UK is not just for foreigners. One UK citizen I know in the EU is undergoing cancer treatment, but would not be eligible for free NHS care for three months if he was forced to return to the UK. Cancer doesn’t wait for permits and Home Office decisions. Any UK citizen returning from living abroad, even if forced to, cannot claim any benefits for at least that long either, and possibly longer until they can prove that they are habitually resident and have severed links with their previous home.
The message is clear. We are not wanted. Our Government doesn’t care about its fundamental duty to protect its own citizens. Most UK Citizens in the EU didn’t even get a vote, and our lives are now just political collateral damage in the PM’s quest against foreigners, unworthy of consideration due to our disloyalty in exercising our treaty rights. Our own government, instead of offering us the necessary assistance and protection, is deliberately pursuing a policy that would hang its own citizens out to dry. As Jane Golding of rights group British in Europe said yesterday, we are on our own.
Steve Bullock is an ex-civil servant and negotiator for the UK in the EU, and has lived in Belgium for 13 years. He will not be eligible to apply for Belgian citizenship until after Brexit, 5 years after he ceased to have UK diplomatic status.