Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Brexit: Where two years of brexit chaos have left us

The EU has listed hundreds of untrue stories printed by
the British press (graph source)
When we woke on June 24th 2016, the world had changed. Before that date the news was mostly about someone else somewhere else. From that date onward the news has no longer been an abstract thing but something which regularly discusses, or fails to discuss, what is happening to our rights. Why ? Because we are amongst the more than a million British people who took advantage of the Freedom of Movement offered by EU membership to live and work in a different European country to that in which we were born.

The right to live in the home which we bought in our new country and run our own business from our new location was taken from us by the millions of British people who voted for brexit based on false promises by liars. Those voters included our own relatives who preferred to believe false sources about the EU above what we who lived on the continent of Europe could tell them. Stories were believed above referenced facts.

Where does the EU's money come from ? Mostly not from the
UK. The idea that the UK is a cash-cow has been spread by
many brexit supporters. The UK was actually a net recipient
of funds when it first joined. British workers used the right
to travel to other countries to find work helping to regenerate
the British economy. Remember "Auf Wiedersehn Pet" ?
We've been living with brexit for more than two years now. Why more than two years when the referendum was only 20 months ago ? Because we had already spent months trying to explain to relatives living in the UK that much of what they had read about the EU on Facebook, or in newspapers, or in news coverage of politicians or had heard from friends who were informed by those same sources was not actually true at all. We explained that voting for brexit would cause us hardship. Our words made no difference.

We know know that this is probably in part due to the very same Russian interference as is being prosecuted effectively in the US, but unfortunately it is still completely ignored by British authorities. Of course in Britain there is an additional problem of a press which has been making up stories for years.

The facts were always out there for people to read if they wanted to, but too many people preferred to ignore them.

So where are we now ?
Over the weekend, Guy Verhofdstadt, the European Parliament's representative in the brexit negotiations was interviewed on British TV. As usual, he spoke with clarity about the position of the EU and about the many attempts that have been made to come to an agreement with the UK, all of which have been rejected because of the UK's desire for an impossible arrangement:


The content of that interview was remarkably familiar as the EU has held the same entirely logical position since before the Referendum vote. We have heard again and again such simple and obvious things as that you can't expect to force the policy of any organisation which you are not a part of and that you can't expect to retain benefits of membership while not being a member. British brexit supporting politicians continue to try to divide the EU and to seek to do these things, a position which is often referred to as wanting to "have their cake and eat it."

One of the most common lies is that the EU was once only a
"common market". This letter to the British public by PM
Edward Heath in 1972 before the UK joined the EU explained
that there was an intention to also give people extra rights.
It is notable that both Verhofstadt and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier consistently bring up such concerns as the rights of citizens (both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU) and the problem of the border in Ireland and the predicament of Gilbrater. British politicians talk infrequently about these issues, most discussion of citizens' rights being about how to take those rights away. Though we are citizens of the country which is leaving the EU it is not our government which is fighting for us but EU representatives who are working to preserve our rights.

Over the last week we've heard the voices of three of the "big hitters" in the UK under an overall title of "the road to brexit". Boris Johnson, Theresa May and yesterday David Davis. None of them has said anything memorable or which gives a clearer picture of what the UK wants from brexit. They have instead spoken in a mix of generalities and sound-bites. Each speech has included a new catch phrase. Nothing concrete has been suggested. No sensible suggestions have been made about citizens' rights or about the issue of the Irish border.

link to article
Today it was David Davis' turn to speak. It was trailed in British newspapers, as you see to the right. He obviously thought that the Mad Max reference was funny, but no-one laughed. Davis' catchphrase was "a race to the top". Davis made vague suggestions that the EU and UK could continue to trade on an equal basis not because they'd stick to the same laws and standards, but because they would "respect" each other's standards while actually having different laws. The British position remains that of wanting to have their cake and eat it. Davis did not make any mention of either citizens' rights or the Irish border.

Davis' claim that he would ensure that standards would remain high was almost immediately undermined by his colleagues.

Something which has been seen several times with brexit is that the government claim initially to have a fairly mild position and later change this to reflect the more extreme position of other brexit supporting politicians. There have been several examples of this over just the last few days:

Daily Telegraph front page story widely held to be anti-semitic
as well as being anti-EU. Right wing news papers in the UK
continue their war against the EU through the brexit process.
Yesterday we heard that brexit supporting politicians have begun to talk down the Good Friday Agreement which has maintained peace in Ireland for the last 20 years. Why are they talking this important agreement down ? I think it's quite obvious: the Good Friday Agreement requires an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and because Ireland is staying in the EU this means an open border between the UK and the EU. Note also that the GFA incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into the law of Northern Ireland and that many of the politicians who support brexit have opposed the ECHR for many years.

There has also been a letter from extremists written to the Prime Minister which is seen as a "ransom note" with its demands for a hard brexit or else.

At the same time, the government has been suggesting to other EU members that the proposed two year transition period (to end at the end of 2019 to fit the end of an EU accounting period) should instead be "open ended", ending whenever it suits the UK, and that during this period the UK should be able to set policy (e.g. fishing quotas) for the rest of the EU to follow. Yet again they want to "have their cake and eat it."

While all this is going on, the rest of the world can see the way the UK is heading and they are reacting. The Dutch are already training the hundreds of extra customs officials who will be required to staff the ports and airports after the expected "hard" brexit. i.e. it's now expected by many that the UK will not be able to agree either a transitional arrangement with the EU or a trade agreement after they leave the EU and the Netherlands will be prepared for this eventuality, even though the UK is not, with the head of the UK's maritime business association warning of the trouble ahead and begging the government to take notice, saying that they are "lost in politics."

How is this affecting us ?
Above you'll find links to just a small fraction of the many news articles from the last two years about issues which have a potential to disrupt our lives, and those of the other nearly five million EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU, which have resulted from brexit. We have had two years of this and the strain is extremely unpleasant.

Many of the problems which have now come to light as just as we predicted they would be. That is why we took the decision to begin the process of becoming Dutch immediately after the referendum in 2016. However, the process is slow. For our children it took about a year before they had their Dutch nationality. Because the Netherlands does not allow dual nationalities under any but exceptional circumstance, this required renunciation of their British nationality. It's a very odd thing to give up the nationality of the country in which one was born, but this is the process which our children have been forced to endure as a result of those in the UK who thought they were "getting their country back". When the process is complete you receive a letter like this:

Like everything to do with the Home Office in the UK, this letter is expensive and it takes months to arrive. It costs 320 pounds per person to become non-British and it was not until a couple of weeks ago that our daughters could finally provide the required evidence of renunciation of British nationality to the Dutch government.
Our children are no longer British. They have lost their automatic right to live and work in the country in which they were born or even to go there to visit their relatives. Perhaps in the future a visa will be required to visit? No-one can be sure.

Unfortunately, it is only our children who are already Dutch so our family's fortunes are split on nationality. For Judy and I the process has taken much longer. I first had to take exams to prove my ability in Dutch. The exams were especially difficult, but the process of booking appointments and waiting for results took almost a year. Judy could have applied on her own at the same time as our children but as it was cheaper to apply as a couple we decided to do that before realizing that this decision would cost a whole year of delay. We applied to become Dutch jointly in May last year but a decision on this can take a year and after nearly ten months we have yet to receive an answer from the Dutch government. We obviously hope for a positive outcome, but though we can't think of any good reason why this should happen it is also possible that we will be rejected. Until there is certainty on this we have nothing.

In the case of rejection we will be left only with British nationality and have a right to live and work in the UK, but not to live here and run our Dutch business, while our children will have a right to live and work in the Netherlands and across the EU, but not in the UK.

Our future, we hope. Certainty and
freedom in a country which we had
already made our home.
In the case of our being accepted we will be able to become Dutch and will then have to renounce our British nationality leaving us able to remain in the same country as our children, be able to live in our own home and run the business which gives us a living. We won't necessarily be able to visit our relatives in the UK.

Becoming Dutch is easily the preferable outcome of the two. Being able to visit relatives who are amongst those who voted to create this mess is less important to me than being able to stay right where we are with some certainty returning to our lives, and to be able to live in the same country as our own children.

This tale of woe is not just our tale. Nearly five million people have a story to tell. Some haven't started to do anything yet so their tales lie in the future. Others have already had far worse experiences than we have. Here in the Netherlands we have found a procedure which is fixed and appears to work. No-one has been threatened, we have just had to wait a long time. That is stressful enough but the story is not the same for EU citizens in the UK where the government doesn't know what they want to happen, the Home Office can't keep up and random decisions seem to be made. EU citizens have had to change to bizarrely changing suggestions and people who have spent a lifetime contributing to the UK have repeatedly been told to leave.

Update 5 March 2018
We've now had several more days of politicians talking about our rights... or not.
The bottom two made sense. The top two want extra cherries on the cake which they wish to have as well as to eat.
Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Prime Minister Theresa May both made presentations about the UK having its cake and eating it. Theresa May introduced her new catch phrase "getting on with it". Neither of these two current members of the British government managed to find a single word which could offer any reassurance to British citizens like ourselves. They also didn't say anything which moves their position on from seeking to "have their cake and eat it" with regard to Europe.

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and ex British PM John Major both spoke sense. Barnier simply put it as it is. This is the EU and the EU has rules which it must follow. John Major spoke very much from the heart, clearly a man who is deeply concerned about the future of his own country. These wise words are being ignored.

Britain continues its course towards falling out of the EU without an agreement. This will cost the country a great deal. Those of us who are British but who live in the EU have been abandoned by our own government, apparently because to do otherwise would mean that the British government would have to promise rights to EU citizens in the UK.

Let's not forget that British Prime Minister Theresa May brought us the "Go
Home" van when she was Home Secretary. It's a mistake to expect her leadership
to result in positive progress for immigrants in the UK and it appears that she
also has no interest in British citizens who live outside the UK
For the EU and for us as well the clock is ticking. We started the process of trying to become Dutch immediately after the referendum in 2016 but because it took time to take exams and get the results before we could send in our applications for Dutch citizenship, only ten months have passed since our applications. It's actually precisely ten months today as we applied on the fifth of May last year. According to the letter which we were sent in reply to our application, it can take a maximum of twelve months for a decision to be made. We're waiting and hoping for good news.


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