“God only knows what the next government will tell us” – EU citizens in UK watch Brexit happen with very mixed feelings

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As a continental European citizen, I’m interested in how the EU citizens living in the UK are experiencing the Brexit process, and their treatment by the British authorities and their British fellow UK inhabitants.

If you live in a EU country where a referendum, in which you’re not allowed to vote, decides it will leave the EU and all the certainties that went with it, that is a fundamental transformation of your position in that country and that society; especially if the sitting government is not always as careful, let alone reassuring, about your position in their country.

Well, I’m not at all reassured that the British government has grasped how sensitive they have to be towards those EU citizens in such a transformative policy move.

Let me point to an Opinium Poll of British EU citizens last December, right after the barnstorming “Get Brexit Done” election campaign. It found that 75% of EU citizens polled thought that UK politicians didn’t care about their views; and 67% thought that they didn’t even listen. 57% said that under May and Boris, the UK government had grown “more hostile” towards EU citizens since the referendum.

Meanwhile Opinium found that, since the referendum, 28% reported experiencing abuse for being an EU citizen, mostly in discriminatory jokes (30%), different treatment in shops or restaurants, and even in their workplace – 20%.

In October Security Minister Brandon Lewis used the unfortunate term “deportation” for EU people not applying for settlement status. On the continent that evokes dark associations (I myself was startled by it). This after three years of conflicting messages to EU inhabitants. It took an anxious resolution drafted and massively supported by all big European parliament political groupings before the Johnson government distanced itself from that laden term. People with European historical sensitivity would have retracted the term fully at the first sign of anxiety. The anxiety had been increased by the fact that a greater percentage of EU citizens (41%) applying for that status only got the temporary status, continuing uncertainty. This will have been reinforced by the treatment of the Michelin-starred French chef Claude Bossi when he, unaware of the “settlement”-arrangement for EU inhabitants, made the honest mistake of applying for permanent residency. The government ignored knowing he was French, and sent him an outdated rejection letter without mentioning the settlement option, even when he himself visited the Home Office for his application photograph and asked how long it would take.

Seeing EU citizens tell pollsters what they experienced in daily life should have made the government more open to the demand (by 90% of them) that, along with an online affirmation of their status, they should get a physical card to use with landlords, employers, and government functionaries with whom they wanted to enquire. And here too, EU inhabitants voiced feelings of stress, being “unwanted” and a growing distrust of Boris’s guarantees that nothing untoward would happen to them.

The fact that even the Residential Landlords Association in April 2019 and January 2020 supported the cardless EU people’s fear of discrimination, saying it was practical for landlords etcetera, and seeing the House of Lords, full of experienced politicians and learned jurists, support them in this, should tell Johnson’s stubbornly negative ministers something.

Finally, let me quote from an interview with a Dutch housewife living with her British partner (in Ramsgate) in a national Dutch newspaper on 27 January 2020 : she is scared by the vehemence of the Brexit polarisation in British society; she says xenophobia has clearly grown since the referendum; and she’s altogether stopped talking Dutch when walking in the street because of negative reactions. And she says what many EU citizens feel:

This government says we can of course stay; but God only knows what the next British government will tell us.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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4 Comments

  • The British govn and the LibDems are a bit of a lost cause on immigration (the LibDems refusing any compromise on FOM and ultimately wanting open borders) but the EU could take the moral high ground rather than doing tit-for-tat on visas and residence. The Conservative post Brexit ploy of blocking welfare unless resident for five years has majority support in the UK and will help block the low skilled from coming here so there is some room for a modified FOM scheme which the LibDems should be promoting, albeit with much kicking and screaming.

  • Peter Hayes 28th Jan '20 - 4:04pm

    Frank, the EU already allows removal of EU citizens after six months if they are deemed to not be seeking work. Germany already has a judgement from the EU court but the UK has never made use of the judgement because the border force and tracking of immigrants is so chaotic.

  • I have to say Frank your comment is the epitome of cakesish. You want to be able to stop EU nationals coming here but would like the EU to “the EU could take the moral high ground rather than doing tit-for-tat on visas and residence”. Sorry mate free movement is going and if individual EU states (notice the word individual) don’t want to allow Brits to move there they won’t have too. Now I know that will potentially kill the dream of many a Brexi and Lexi to retire to the sun ( perhaps they can find an Irish grandparent), but that is what they voted for. Consequences Frank, voting for Brexit has consequences.

  • Next government?
    Sorry but this one is likely to be in office until December 2024.
    I expect this Conservative government will be presenting a very different face after the transition period completes – currently scheduled for 31-Dec-2020…

    It is clear Boris is using the EU nationals resident in the UK as part of their bargaining… Additionally, there seems to be an expectation among Brexiteers that the EU won’t be hard on UK nationals living in the EU27, la-la-ing the fact frankie reminds us of, that without an EU agreement the fate of UK nationals living in EU27 member states post transition period is wholly up to the individual states to determine, just as it is presently with all non-EU nationals.

    As for ” The Conservative post Brexit ploy of blocking welfare unless resident for five years has majority support in the UK”, well as we know from previous debates, for this to work the UK government will need to introduce compulsory identity cards for all; I doubt that has majority support…

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