For over a year, Theresa May has prided herself in refusing to reassure EU nationals about the impact of Brexit on their personal lives, until the Brexit negotiations had started, and the EU had given similar reassurances concerning UK nationals in the EU. It must be said that she has kept to her word, and has succeeded in not reassuring EU nationals – even now. Once again she has mistimed and miscalculated her words and actions, completely alienating at least 90% of the 3 million EU nationals currently living in the UK, all of the EU nationals planning to move to the UK and, above all, the EU negotiators. As for the Brits in Europe, either the EU downs its offer in retaliation to an uncompromising UK , or it sticks to its promises. The former will mean that most of us are in trouble, but the latter will provoke my unconditional life-long love and gratitude towards the EU – but not a minute longer.
Sorting out the fate of 4.5 million citizens spread around 28 different countries who were, at the very least, good buddies, was supposed to be the easy part of the Brexit negotiations. However, the lack of agreement between the UK and the EU on something so fundamental as the rights of a large proportion of its citizens is nothing short of scandalous. At this rate, I cannot wait until both sides start talking about money.
For those interested in the precise wording of the UK proposal, the full text can be found here. It’s not the purpose of this post to comment judiciously on the nitty-gritty of the entire proposal. As famously said elsewhere, “Now you might very well think that, but I, of course, couldn’t possibly comment…” In any case, if you have read my other posts on Brexit, you can probably guess what I think about the UK’s position on EU citizens.
However, I do want to draw your attention to something that goes much deeper than a 15-page proposal,. It’s an ongoing process – not only involving Brexit – that is slowly but surely threatening our very own freedom.
In pursuing her obsession with more registers and “citizen selection”, Theresa May is walking down a dangerous path. Towards the end of 2016, she toyed with the idea of forcing companies to publicly list their foreign workers. Severely criticised on this, she did mellow her tone, without actually disregarding the idea.
What we are going to consult on, is whether we should bring ourselves in line with countries like the USA which collect data in order to ensure they are getting the right skills and training for workers in their economy – Theresa May October 2016
Of course, I do understand that it was all for a good cause. In any case, Theresa May soon found out that if you cannot list them, you can certainly tax them. In an attempt to control immigration, British companies could face paying significantly higher fees for non-EU employees. This is precisely the sort of policy that France’s National Front presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, had in her handbag.
What is going to happen to EU citizens working and living in the UK resembles the infamous “Foreign Workers List Plan” that, luckily, never saw the light of day. If Theresa May has her way, when the UK leaves the EU, it will be the home of 3 million second class EU citizens – fingerprinted and registered. If you think that it is just an administrative adjustment, then you are wrong. For some, it can (and will) go terribly wrong. When I moved from the UK to France in 1984, I was personally involved in the administrative misinterpretation of EU Law by the French. I was astute enough to provide them with a certificate which, whilst not being illegal, was not the one they were wrongfully asking for and that I could not provide. I played them at their own game. I was lucky…I won. An outstanding example in the present context of Brexit, is the fact that Theresa May doesn’t realize that a cut-off date prior to 29/3/19 is against EU law. In view of her lack of knowledge, coupled with her statement that only British courts can deliberate on any administrative disputes involving EU citizens, the European Court of Justice is now needed, more than ever.
The problem is, of course, that it is a complicated administrative procedure that can be influenced by a subjective perception of what is required. In other words, whether you have posted or emailed all the information required to process your application, is subject to a personal approval by an administrative worker who opens your letter or reads your email. I have another example of how it can go wrong. Last year, I decided to replace my existing mortgage with a new one. All the paperwork was completed, when I suddenly received an email from the bank informing me that “in order to complete our approval of your mortgage, you must send us a copy of your resident permit.” Long ago, I was in the possession of such a permit, but the Dutch authorities informed me that it was not necessary to renew it. I phoned immigration immediately and they confirmed that, for me, a resident permit was not mandatory. The case was easily solved, but it serves to illustrate the complications that can arise during administrative procedures, especially those associated with the status and integration of foreign nationals.
It is also quite cynical that Theresa May is still insisting that the EU should reciprocate her “fair and generous” offer, whilst ignoring the fact that the European Commission already had a much more detailed and extensive set of propositions. The EU propositions reach far beyond the UK proposal which remains full of uncertainties and loopholes.
May’s statement falls short of addressing many issues – some of them relate to family members living abroad who may want to be reunited with their UK-resident relatives. Others relate to the rights of spouses and future children. Can those qualifying for residency move to another member state and return and expect the same rights when they return? Will they be put on a list or given specific identification documents to be allowed to travel back into the country? – Lecturer in Law, The Open University
The demands of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU are quite simple. We all expect the status quo concerning our rights, which are also applicable ad infinitum, and to all family members – the emphasis being on the two Latin words which mean “without end”. Whereas it can be argued that EU citizens entering the UK after Brexit will face different rules and acquire a different status, the same cannot be said whilst the UK is still a member of the EU. Membership, to all intents and purposes, lasts until midnight on 29th March 2019. How would you feel if your Peruvian fiancée could not join you because your adopted country had decided to change your EU citizen’s acquired rights before it has actually left the Union?
Another salient failure of Theresa May’s proposal, is the omission of any mention to the continued recognition of professional qualifications. Although she may have implied this when she said that all EU nationals could stay, she should have mentioned this specifically, as the EU did. As a dental practitioner working in the Netherlands, I have to renew my registration in a National Register for Health Workers (BIG register) every 5 years. I am due for re-registration in 2021, by which time the UK will have left the EU with or without a deal. Once again, you can measure the importance of the two Latin words “ad infinitum”, mentioned above. I find it inconceivable that, due to the UK leaving the EU, there is a possibility, however small, that I will no longer be able to re-register as a dental practitioner. Since I have dual British/French citizenship, there can be no administrative problems due to my nationality. My dental degree, however, is from the UK, and subject to a continued recognition. Not being able to vote on June 23rd 2016 was one thing. Continuing to cast doubts over my future is quite another.
What is most disappointing about the whole saga concerning EU citizens seems to be the lack of trust between London and Brussels. The feelings of mistrust emanate not only from the negotiating teams, but also at grass root level – from the citizens themselves. Our blind trust in an institution that has made us who we are, is threatening to dissolve the very basement that it was founded on – the 4 freedoms. I am also an EU citizen who does not trust the ability of the UK and EU to categorically protect our rights. I have decided to apply for my French passport and not renew my UK one. On this matter, I received the following Facebook reaction…
Not re-applying for a British passport because of some subjective moral issue, regarding the actions of one British government seems a bit pathetic as well as an insult to the greatness, history and heritage of Britain and her people.
… to which I replied,
I want to be able to queue at EU airports with my family…Is that so immoral? As for the greatness, history and heritage of the UK (not Britain), Theresa May can insult it far better than I can…
A sorry state of affairs for the EU and the UK, both of which I dearly love.