Dutch UK correspondents warn that the mood among EU expats has really soured


In his Sky interview on Sunday (quoted by Caron Lindsay in her earlier post), Sir Vince Cable warned that the Wimbledon tournament is hit by a serious strawberry crisis. British strawberry fields will (forever?) remain unattended because the people (EU workers) needed to pick the fruit have scampered home, afraid of the uncertainties of staying in the UK where both May and Corbyn keep pursuing a hard Brexit, never mind May’s sweet-talking at the recent Brussels summit (which was roundly dismissed, if not disbelieved by Juncker, Tusk and German prime minister Merkel).

In the Dutch liberal quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad of Saturday 1st July, the anthropologist and journalist Joris Luyendijk (famous for his Guardian blogs and international bestseller “Swimming with sharks” about the worrying ways of thinking and operating in the City of London banking sector) gives an assessment of the mood among well-educated, professional EU citizens that should alarm any Briton who wants the British economy to flourish.

And in the biggest Dutch daily, de Telegraaf of 23d June, Dutch expat and former Telegraaf UK correspondent Arnoud Breitbarth (now working in the British musical industry) voices frustration (“we’re treated like second class citizens from the moment the Brexit Referendum was announced”) and despair at possibly having to leave the UK where they’ve lived for decades.

Both Luyendijk and Breitbarth say they don’t know any EU citizen who is not considering leaving; and Luyendijk adds that there is an incentive to leave early, before the Dutch jobs market is inundated with former expats brandishing British work experience.

Luyendijk points out that Dutch, Slovak, and Baltic laws all exclude the possibility of dual citizenship; so parents with children in school or in university face the possibility of having to apply for British citizenship to give their children the chance to stay studying and working in the UK. In the Telegraaf, Dutch expats complain about excessive demands (health insurance; 65-page application forms; Kafkaesque procedures and correspondence); and Luyendijk quotes expats: “they can’t give their own people affordable housing, but should be able to properly process millions of residency and citizenship applications?”.

And EU expats aren’t sure their residence status won’t be revoked (or altered substantially) once the British tabloids start another xenophobic campaign after Brexit is realized in 2019. All have the distinct impression of being mere bargaining chips for a government which, as Bagehot points out in The Economist, has weakened its international position by cutting of its European nose to spite its  face. And as the reaction by EU government leaders to May’s offer to expats showed, the scepticism about how much London will really help EU residents is shared by their home governments.

And not only are Nick Clegg’s Dutch mother and Spanish wife affected by Brexit, but also Cable’s Slovak daughter-in-law…

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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  • Trevor Stables 3rd Jul '17 - 2:57pm

    Even more reason for us in The Liberal Democrats to be completely unambiguous about Free Movement.

  • Bernard Aris 3rd Jul '17 - 3:17pm

    In the NHS the problems in retaining non-UK personell reported earlier (which may also be a consequence of / reaction by those “concerned” in more ways than one) is compounded by the reduction, for the first time since Gordon Brown entered Downing Street 10, that more nurses and midwives left the service than entered it.
    see: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40476867 .

    #) Brexit and
    #) maintaining the public sector pay cap
    are causing the NHS to hemmorrhage personel, at a time that the A&E waiting times keep being long.

    Those Tories are exemplary custodians of the NHS, are they not? You can leave the wellbeing of their subjects safely in their hands…. NOT.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jul '17 - 4:00pm

    This is the type of article we have regularly had from Bernard. Insightful is the word.

    I do not agree with the initial reaction above . Or rather I do but from a different perspective.

    This country has for years made a complete mess of immigration.

    The freedom the EU expect is freedom of movement, as it is between every democratic country, the age old liberal, freedom to travel, in and out of countries, to visit.

    Freedom of labour, is the actual freedom expected and allowed, freedom to take up a job offer or run a business and therefore settle.

    That is not the same thing as an unlimited ,right of settlement.

    That does not exist and nor should it.

    We are literally turning people out of this country , who are not from the EU , yet have married uk citizens, due to income thresholds, visa requirements , red tape , and a lack of common sense and common humanity.

    I do not care a jot about cheap strawberries , compared to broken hearted couples separated.

    We must get real and really get on with defending people.

    All governments, particularly Conservative and Labour, but alas including Liberal Democrat culpability, have failed on migration and immigration, for too long.

    The priority is not fruit pickers here as casual labour.

    It is families and loved ones unable to be here and be together.

    We must act more intelligently , and we must act!

  • Bernard Aris 3rd Jul '17 - 4:55pm

    @ Derick Rethans

    De Telegraaf’s website still is from the Stone Age when Windows XP was the best you could get.
    They have no online versions of their articles (believe it or not…).

    The NRC article can be found under: https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/06/30/in-groot-brittannie-hebben-eu-burgers-niets-meer-te-zoeken-11373620-a1565145

  • I think we should back away from confrontation with the EU. They are quite obviously our master and we in the UK are unable to put together any coherent comments. We are as illiterate children in the face of Brussels might and majesty. Britain has ever been a tiny place and we should know our place as being in the fourth world.

  • You are right about the British tabloids, Bernard. Forty years of their criminally irresponsible warmongering propaganda brought Brexit about, and now, jubilant from their victory, they are completely insufferable. Attempts to control them such as the Leveson initiative have met with limited success, and they are calling all the shots, people like Theresa May being simply their servants. The public must learn to avoid drinking from this poisoned source – I avert my eyes whenever I go into a newsagent.

  • We are not Expats. We are Migrants (usually referred to as Swarming Migrants)! Only the English abroad deserve to be called Ex-Pats.

  • jayne Mansfield 3rd Jul '17 - 8:56pm

    @ Bernard Aris,

    Do you not understand how comments about the strawberry shortage hitting Wimbledon plays out with the mass of people in this country who can’t afford a punnet of strawberries from the local market?

    May I point out, that in my South Yorkshire village, we used to queue in the hope that we would get on to the back of a lorry, one that would take us to fields where we could pea- pick or potato pick to earn money.

    People like you are spreading fear amongst members of my family. My children knew full well when they took contracts in the EU, that their contracts that if they did not have EU citizenship, the contract would be ended, They accepted the terms when they applied for the jobs.

    Poland by the way offers dual nationality.

    If you have a grumble, please share mine, the fact that, as a British born graduate, I can’t answer most of the questions on the UK citizenship test paper. I find myself struggling to help those who wish to pass. It is a disgrace,

  • If as a nation we are unable to pick our own strawberries without relying on imported labour what does that really tell us? That we need to stay in the EU or that we actually need to put our own house in order?

  • Bernard Aris 3rd Jul '17 - 10:46pm

    @ Jayne Mansfield
    First of all, it wasn’t me that started talking about the strawberry pickers; it was Sir Vince Cable, MP and leadership contender.
    Our (Mr. Cable and my humble person) point about the strawberries is NOT that (in the Wimbledon context) they stand for an elite, “Brideshead Revisited”-like, expensive kind of lifestyle. It’s not about the strawberies; it’s about the job of picking them, in which East Europeans have been a big part of the workforce (both coming over for the season, and living permanently in the UK). The season workers have not come, so the strawberies remain unpicked.
    It is about the fact that even though Poland offers dual citizenship, even the Polish (a substantial chunk of whom have been living in the UK for decades if not centuries; see the entourage of the 1940-’45 Sikorsky government of “London Polish”) who are so at home in the UK, have been so disturbed by the anti-foreigner atmosphere the Brexit referendum unleashed (every EU citizen in the UK, and the Dutch-Somali community in London, will tell you that) that they don’t want to stay in the UK working the fields, but prefer going-, or staying, home now the Polish economy is picking up.

    I fully respect your family members knowingly taking their chances by getting work on the continent even when the Brexit referendum loomed or had passed; but my point is that the Polish (Bulgarian, Rumanian, etcetera) workers who for the past decade came to work in the British strawbery-picking season this year stay away. The reason? a more hostile climate, making them distrust British hospitality.

    If you as British born graduate can’t answer those questions in the test, that is exactly the “Kafkaesque” demands Dutch long-time inhabitants of the UK, wanting to stay put, now complain about, because they know even less of Britain than you. So your complaint is the same as theirs; and I myself and all UK Dutch support your complaint.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jul '17 - 10:48pm

    There’s a tendency amongst Lib Dems to use the EU question as litmus test for political tendencies. If we are anti the EU we must be anti European, anti-immigrant and therefore of an extreme right wing persuasion.

    Maybe I missed the discussion, but what were the arguments in support of the EU’s harsh treatment of Greek people in 2015? Yes, there was a dispute between the Greek government and the EU PTB. But why was it necessary to deprive Greek pensioners access to their bank accounts. Leaving many in tears as ATM machines didn’t function and banks closed their doors to them. Many of these elderly Greek people had earned their euros working in Germany.

    We can easily imagine the circumstances of a possible future dispute between the Scottish Government in Holyrood and Westminster. What is harder to imagine is that the Westminster government would deprive Scottish people access to their banks.

    Surely even the Tories wouldn’t stoop that low?

  • Little Jackie Paper 3rd Jul '17 - 10:53pm

    Dr Aris – ‘Dutch expats complain about excessive demands (health insurance; 65-page application forms; Kafkaesque procedures and correspondence)’

    The health insurance requirements are written on the face of the EU directive. It’s EU law, not UK law. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2004:158:0077:0123:en:PDF

    The procedures are derived from EU law, not home office rules or Westminster law. I expect it would be the same in the Netherlands. I understand it is even more opaque in Italy.

    You don’t know how free movement works do you?

    And I note in passing that EU migrants get a far sweeter and easier deal than those of us who have been through the non-EU system. But I suspect that you really couldn’t care less about people like us could you Dr Aris?

  • Little Jackie Paper 3rd Jul '17 - 11:00pm

    Peter Martin – The Greeks knew the deal with the euro, and I assume the Cypriots did too. The EZ has gaping structural flaws, that much is now clear. What to do about it is another matter. But if you sign away powers over your currency you should know the implications of that. The troika/quad is not there for the people of Greece – that’s the deal.

    Emanuel Macron has set out some ideas for the EZ that are (probably) good ones. But I’d suggest they would trigger referendums and at the point the politics of the euro are very much in play.

  • Little Jackie Paper 3rd Jul '17 - 11:40pm

    By the way – pedant point.

    ‘the 1940-’45 Sikorsky [sic] government.’

    I’m pretty sure Sikorski died in either 1942 or 43. From that point on Mikolajczyk led the exiles.

  • Bernard Aris 4th Jul '17 - 12:18am

    @ Little Jackie Paper,

    Everybody who knows anything about EU legislation and directives knows about a practice called “gold-plating” of those laws and directives. That means that
    #) in addition to the EU rules like the one you point out,
    #) many national governments can’t resist the temptation to add their own accents , national addenda, and implemementation rules.
    One of my former parliamentary party leaders, and someone with whom I’ve talked a lot about EU legislation, is Professor Dr. Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, who as you can read here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurens_Jan_Brinkhorst ) was professor of European law from the early ’60s, when EU laws started being written and adopted/”goldplated” by national member-governments. He wrote a series of handbooks on European Law (and how they are implemented in political practice); up until the 1990’s his handbook was THE source for any Dutch Law of Political Science student wanting to know about the subject. He warned me not to look just at the original EU laws and Directives, but to mind (and look at) the things national governments added (or amended) to them.

    I take exception about your barb about not caring about non-EU citizens; my point and my article are about EU citizens; nowhere did I say anything derogatory or offensive about non-EU citizens living in the UK or anyhere else.
    My political current in Dutch politics, Social Liberals (Free-thinking Democratic Leaugue, see Wikipedia), in the colonial era initiated the build-up of Indonesian education (for Indonesian natives, Chinese and Europeans, no difference) up to Technical High School in Indonesia itself. The nationalist leader Sukarno graduated from such a high school in Bandung in the 1930’s; Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru graduated in London and Cambridge.
    And D66 has been a steadfast supporter of Third world aid, international human rights, UN organisations like UNHCR, UNICEF and UN peace operations everywhere; for the ideological outlook and attitude underpinning that see this Wikipedia item https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrats_66#Ideology_and_issues , and these are the 5 basic principles of D66 policy on our party website (look at the second: “none excluded”) : https://international.d66.nl/liberal-democrats-2/ .

  • Bernard Aris 4th Jul '17 - 1:16am

    @ Little Jackie Paper

    The 2010 British Coalition Government, with the LibDems, specifically wanted to push back all the “gold-plating” that had gone on in the UK (their government remit) since the 1970’s;
    see Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold-plating_(European_Union_law) .

  • jayne Mansfield 4th Jul '17 - 8:08am

    @ Bernard Aris,
    I recognise that Vince Cable was making a point about strawberry pickers and the fact that potential eastern european migrants are finding the idea od being a strawberry picker a less desirable option. Also that you were reporting his words. However, I stand by what I say, people, even people of my acquaintance are unmoved by arguments about a probable dearth of EU strawberry pickers. In fact, they , like myself, were and are more likely to be more concerned about the living conditions of this mobile workforce, both prior to as well as post, the Brexit referendum.

    If we really need to speak about strawberries, which never seem to taste as good as when I was younger, shouldn’t we be asking why the unskilled local population are not prepared to do the work?

  • Bernard Aris 4th Jul '17 - 9:19am

    The living and working conditions are primarily
    #) a point of national legislation and
    #) to varying degrees (in “Rhinelandish” countries like Germany and the Benelux very much, in more “confrontational” countries like France and the UK less) a point for consultation and agreement between employers and trade unions.
    Only in the broad parameters of the EU Social Charter and such broad outlines is it a European affair.
    So being in the EU protects the workers in a given country somewhat; but even if such a country steps outside, working conditions and labour relations remain 90% something decided by national laws and national organisations (CBI, TUC, and suchlike).

    So Brexit itself doesn’t impact working conditions much; only the (social-)economic uncertainty brought about by Brexit wll have a strong influence.

    And in the Netherlands too we haven’t the foggiest idea about why Dutch people don’t want to do agricultural work in the fields… But they clearly don’t want it…
    People in the tomato-growing industry put dozens of unemployed from the Hague in buses to their greenhouses; but in the end only a handful of those people turned out to be fit and willing to work there…

  • Peter Martin 4th Jul '17 - 12:00pm

    @Little Jackie Piper,

    You say “The Greeks knew the deal with the euro, and I assume the Cypriots did too”

    From conversations I’ve had with Greek people I would say they didn’t. All they knew, when the euro was introduced, was the EU starting a common currency. It was going to be the European equivalent of the US dollar. There’s been quite a few disagreements over the years between US States, City Administrations and the Federal Government. There’s been more than a few financial crises and bankruptcies.

    But only once, this possible exception being the US civil war, has the US Federal government imposed any collective punishment on the people living in dissenting regions. The actions of the EU in both Greece and Cyprus has been totally inexcusable.

  • Peter Martin 4th Jul '17 - 12:19pm

    @ Bernard,

    “And in the Netherlands too we haven’t the foggiest idea about why Dutch people don’t want to do agricultural work in the fields”

    Let me help you to dispel the mists around your “idea”. Put your thinking cap on. Have a strong cup of coffee and get that grey matter working. Let me give you a hint. Start off with the level of pay. If it’s low, ask yourself if lowering it further will encourage or discourage more Dutch people to give it a go. Then when you’d done that, ask yourself if raising the levels of pay will have the opposite effect.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Jul '17 - 9:18pm

    I would just like to echo this by mentioning that German academic friends of mine feel deeply uncomfortable in Britain since the referendum.. I don’t think this is entirely logical, any more than the desire of Leavers to “take back control” by abandoning a perfectly good ship and jumping in a tiny life raft in a giant ocean…

    However, the fact is that we face a huge drain of talented and well educated people back to Europe, not just strawberry pickers.

    Btw strawberries in my local Lidl seem to be as cheap and plentiful as ever, so there may be a degree of fake news in the Wimbledon story. They are hardly an elitist fruit available only to the rich at this time of year…

  • You don’t need an enormous garden to grow your own strawberries. Furthermore you can grow varieties that don’t “travel well” but taste much better like Royal Sovereign and Cambridge Favourite.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Jul '17 - 10:07pm

    Peter Martin – ‘From conversations I’ve had with Greek people I would say they didn’t.’

    Come on! What exactly did they think the Stability and Growth Pact was? Did they think the ECB was there for Greece?

    Don’t get me wrong here – what happened was breathtaking. But it most certainly was not unforeseeable by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jul '17 - 10:10pm

    On the strawberry issue, a country which cannot perform basic tasks like this without having to bring in immigrants to do it is in a serious unstable state. Instead of going on and on about how necessary it is for this crowded country to have to keep on bringing in more and more and more people to do basic tasks, and assume that’s the end of the issue when we’ve said that, we should be asking the deep question just WHY is this the case? Why is it that in the past we could manage these things ourselves and we can’t do so now? If a country has to keep blowing its population up and up to survive that’s a serious problem, it is not a viable economy in the long term.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Jul '17 - 10:15pm

    Huntbach – Spot on. When I see a line like, ‘And in the Netherlands too we haven’t the foggiest idea about why Dutch people don’t want to do agricultural work in the fields… But they clearly don’t want it…’ I’m never sure whether to laugh or cry.

  • Hmmm!
    Maybe this is part of why we have a problem with productivity?

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Jul '17 - 6:43am

    I think people are perhaps missing the fact that we have an aging population? Shall we send the pensioners out for some forced labour in the strawberry fields?
    Fruit has always been picked by itinerant workers.. We used to have a lot more itinerant people in Britain before we decided to make them settle in one place.. Many of the strawberry pickers will not be permanent residents here, and in the autumn many of them will be picking grapes in France. The Single Market removes a lot of red tape from that and also gives more protection to the workers. When we leave a lot more of them will be illegal immigrants on less than minimum wage..

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Jul '17 - 6:52am

    The irony is that it is the pensioners, who need young workers paying taxes to pay for the high cost of keeping them alive longer than ever, who voted most strongly to keep them out..

    One of the least remarked tax increases recently was when I received the letter telling me my retirement age was now 66. In one stroke they took away £5500 or so of money from me.. About the same as 1p on income tax for life on the average wage, but that would be politically impossible it seems. And far more taken from women…

  • Peter Martin 5th Jul '17 - 7:43am

    @Little Jackie Piper,

    “What exactly did they think the Stability and Growth Pact was? Did they think the ECB was there for Greece?”

    There was a lot of Lib Dem, and other, support in the UK for joining the euro some 15 years or so ago. I was one of the waverers who weren’t sure either way. But, at the time I’d never heard of the Stability and Growth Pact. I’d say most people, even now, have never heard of it either. I don’t remember asking my Greek friends about this but I don’t expect they’d be any different. Greek people are no different from us when it comes to understanding the role of the central bank in an economy.

    The discussion on whether to join the euro never mentioned the SGP as far as I can remember. It was all about a certain nebulous concept known as an “optimal currency area” which I don’t believe exists – anywhere.

    But you’re right. The reasons why the euro would have been a disaster for the UK and is a disaster for Greece are contained in the Pact. The Pact is written to suit a large net exporting country like Germany and we all can’t be another Germany. As it is, we probably kept the pound because we wanted the Queen’s pic, and not Napoleon or Bismarck, on our currency!

  • Richard Underhill 17th Nov '17 - 10:06pm

    We now know that robots exist which can choose which fruit from a strawberry plant to pick and do it without crushing or bruising it. The capital cost of the machine is high, but it works 24 hours a day. This will reduce the demand for human labour in 2019.
    Source: Food Unwrapped, Channel 4, 8pm 17 November 2017.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Nov '17 - 10:24pm

    jayne Mansfield 4th Jul ’17 – 8:08am: Come down to Kent and try the best strawberries. Remember that we went through a phase of having children “pick your own” at strawberry farms, at ground level. Strawberries can be grown in guttering 3-4 feet above the ground, indoors, avoiding the back=breaking and unpopular work.
    Daffodils in Cornwall grow in the ground, the traditional labour force is Cornish and female, but nowadays reluctant.
    Bulgaria (and Romania) joined the EU in 2007, 3 years after the A8. The UK had a scheme for Bulgarian seasonal fam-workers, who would return to Bulgaria in the winter in order to keep their visas clean for next year.

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