Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brexit: A long journey through uncertainty

Drenthe is known as "the world's cycling province" for good
reason. We continue to enjoy riding our bikes around the
countryside but brexit has cast a shadow over everything.
Sixteen months have now passed since all certainty was removed from our lives by the brexit vote. It was obvious at once that this would cause a monumental change in millions of peoples' lives, including our own. The only way in which we could guarantee to be able to remain where we are with the rights which we have was by becoming Dutch so we started the process of applying for citizenship within a few days of the vote.

Our children now have Dutch citizenship but Judy and I are still waiting for a decision. Though we had lived here for nearly ten years supporting ourselves by running our own business we had never entered the Dutch education system. We therefore first had to complete exams the result of which would demonstrate our ability with the Dutch language and show that we could fit into Dutch society.

A group of "Nieuwe Nederlanders" in Assen in May 2017
after the ceremony in which they received Dutch nationality.
One of our daughters is in this photo but Judy and I are
still waiting.
Judy had actually taken the exams some years ago as part of an immigration course for women but we delayed Judy's application so that we could apply for citizenship together (a joint application costs €1200 vs. €900 each for individuals). I passed all the exams on my first attempt but the process still took quite a long time. I booked the first exams immediately after the brexit referendum but I couldn't sit them until September 2016 and then I had to wait for the results from those before I could book in March 2017. It took more than a month to get the official certificate and an appointment at the city hall and as a result it was May 2017 before we finally applied for Dutch citizenship.

Within a few days of application we received a form letter telling us that a decision would take up to a year. Our children received the same letter last year and for them it actually took less than a year for the entire process so we're hoping that we get lucky with this timing and that we might actually know before the end of 2017 whether we can become Dutch. It's more likely that we will not know until some months into 2018.

Geslaagd ! My exam results from March.
The process has been enormously expensive. €900 each for our two children, another €1200 for us + the best part of another €1000 to pay for exams and transport myself to and from the city where I had to take the exams and pick up the certificates. We also already had to pay the British government 321 pounds twice to renounce British citizenship of both of our children (the Dutch government doesn't like dual citizenship, though that might yet change). What's more, our cycling component export business used to sell mainly to British customers but the reduced value of the pound has done some harm to our sales to the UK and that has reduced our income by several thousand euros right at the same time as our costs have been increased. A brexit double whammy which we've had to work through as best we can: we've had no holiday in the last two years.

How much uncertainly is too much ?
Two months ago we passed the ten year anniversary of our arrival in the Netherlands. We had long planned to have a party to celebrate, but with a permanent shadow above us we were not in a party mood.

We still do not know whether we can continue to live our lives in our own home. We still don't know if we can continue to run our business here. We could still be forced back to the UK, where we have no home and no job.

There was plenty of information available about the benefits
of the EU
before the referendum but this was unfortunately
drowned out by decades worth of deliberate misinformation.
A three way race
All EU28 countries, including the UK, agreed in advance on the process. There would first be agreements about the UK leaving and then there could be negotiations about the future status of the UK. The first group of things which needed to be agreed include the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens here (i.e. the rights of my family and myself).

Unfortunately, the British Conservative government has proven itself to be completely unable to make any sensible statements which could protect our rights. They simply do not seem to know the brexit that they have brought about is for or what they want to achieve. Even from afar it's obvious that this is still an internal dispute between Conservative party factions, some of whom are so fascinated by the supposed "freedom" of a no-deal brexit that they don't mind harming everyones' rights to achieve it.

The clock is ticking in Brussels as everything needs to be agreed before the end of March 2019, but that's not the biggest problem facing us. The two year period is a maximum. The British behaviour is so erratic that they could decide to walk away at any time, leaving none of the issues addressed, including the rights of citizens. That means that we could easily lose the right to remain in our own home.

For us this has become a three-way race:

  1. We desperately hope that the Dutch government will allow us to become Dutch citizens.
  2. We hope we are Dutch before the British government does something stupid because otherwise we stand to lose our home.
  3. Everything must be resolved before the March 2019 deadline, but that's probably the least important of the three constraints.

As for those still living in the UK, I can only wish you luck. Brexit is a tragedy which will harm the UK. Given time, perhaps the UK can re-join the EU.

Does anyone in the UK know what they want ?
I recently watched two Channel Four News debates showing what the UK's population was now thinking about brexit. The first debate included only brexit voters:



The debate is introduced by Conservative MEP Dan Hannan. He claims at 3:50 that both the EU and the UK are equally interested in preserving citizens' rights but at 41:07 he talks specifically about wanting to restrict the rights of EU nationals. Such mixed messages were typical of the brexit campaign and they have resulted in no-one who voted leave actually knowing for certain what "brexit" is actually supposed to be.

Though the people in this debate are nominally "on the same side", they don't actually agree with each other. People were told what they wanted to hear, with different groups targeted specifically with messages that they wanted to hear (e.g. at 26:00 you'll hear how workers in ethnic restaurants were told that they would be able to employ chefs more easily once the UK left the EU).

The second debate included only remain voters:

I had hoped that this debate might be more enlightening, but actually this group is just as divided as the group of leave voters. Some of them now want to accept brexit, some want to continue to fight against brexit but there's no more agreement on what brexit actually is amongst this group than there was amongst the leave voters. How can you either accept or fight something which is so poorly defined ?

As time has passed it's become quite clear that not even the British government knows what they want. Their attempts at negotiation thus far have been described as a "textbook example of failed strategic thinking" and it appears that they're determined to ignore experts even if the result is enormous damage to the country. It's hardly surprising that the EU also doesn't know what Britain wants.

Citizens' rights ?
The two videos above cover many of the concerns of normal British people. There has been much discussion in the press as well. We quite often read about how the UK wants to restrict the rights of EU citizens, but rarely do we hear of concerns from the UK about the situation that their fellow citizens who happen to live in the EU, like ourselves, may find themselves after the UK leaves the EU and removes rights from EU citizens. The British people, and particularly the government, appear to see no problem in using even their own citizens as "bargaining chips".

If I were an EU citizen living in the UK now, I would be planning to leave. The position of the UK towards immigrants from the EU has been made quite clear enough.

Our situation is a different. We want to stay here. The Netherlands has always welcomed us and treated us in exactly the same way as any other EU citizen. The UK may have given up on us, but the EU continues to try to defend our rights even as "our" government seems intent on taking them away. Our children are now both Dutch and wish to stay here and we wish to become Dutch citizens as well.

To live under the uncertainty that we have for so long is causing us an enormous amount of stress, but we hope that it will turn out for the best.

Update November 2017 - Brexit Impact Studies and a useless British government
For some time now the people leading brexit, especially David Davis, have been claiming that they have brexit impact studies covering 58 different industries which show how well off the UK will be after brexit, but they've refused to publish them. Last week the high court gave a deadline for publication and the story about these studies them mysteriously turned into something along the lines of "the dog ate my homework". The have still not been published. They probably do not exist.

The EU, meanwhile, has published studies. They're publicly available and can be read. The only one of these which I've completely read thus far is that pertaining to citizens' acquired rights. There's bad news, as we expected: We almost certainly don't have any right in law to remain in our home in the Netherlands after the UK leaves the EU because the British government will have taken our membership of the EU away from us. This is precisely the reason why we began the process of trying to acquire Dutch citizenship a few days after the referendum vote. Without it we have no certainty (we've still heard nothing).

Meanwhile, the Conservative party in the UK is in chaos. Members of the cabinet have been forced to resign for unpleasant sexual behaviour and putting a foreign government above their own, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are undermining the authority of the Prime Minister while trying to push her towards the hardest possible (most destructive) brexit, but at the same time she's also threatened by an attempt to undermine her plan for brexit and in addition likely to face a vote of no-confidence. How much longer can Theresa May remain Prime Minister ? No-one knows, but it doesn't look good.

And what do I read today ? A leading Conservative and brexit supporter, John Redwood, has been advising investors to pull their money out of the UK because the economy is going down the toilet, while both Cornwall and Grimsby in Lincolnshire, both of which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit are now suffering from the result of their vote. Grimsby's brexit supporting local MP has actually called for the town to be made a special case which remains in the EU, while the Cornish have noticed that a lack of migrant labour is already causing problems with their tourist and vegetable growing industries.


Read more about our experience with brexit:

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