Thursday, 29 March 2018

Brexit: One year left for the UK to leave the EU and we're very nearly Dutch

An interesting book which I read last year about
brexit from the perspective of a Dutch person
living and working in the UK.
Exactly one year has now passed since the British government triggered article 50 and announced that the UK really was going to leave the EU. The process takes two years so is now half way through, but because the British government is chaotic they appear to have achieved more or less nothing at all during the time that has passed.

  • No progress has been made on the Irish and Gilbraltarian border questions
  • No progress has been made on the rights of citizens, either citizens from the EU27 who live in the UK or British citizens who live in the EU27 countries.
  • No progress has been made on trade arrangements

A whole year has passed in addition to the nine months that it took between the referendum and triggering article 50, but rather than making any useful progress at all on anything, this time has been consumed with political in-fighting within the UK and no real progress has been made on anything. The clock is ticking, Britain !

What's more, there have been yet more revelations over the last couple of weeks of how the British people were (quite possibly illegally) manipulated by over-spending by leave.eu spending money with Cambridge Analytica to use Facebook to spread false information. We knew this from the beginning. There was plenty of factual information out there for people to read, but many preferred the lies and half truths which were especially aimed at those people who were most easily manipulated to believe them.

Sadly, since the referendum we've seen very little political support from the UK. People like us were described as "citizens of nowhere" by the British Prime Minister while our rights have been defended mainly by EU representatives (with a few wonderful exceptions).

Rights ?
When we moved to the Netherlands we did so as European citizens. We had a right to continue to vote in the UK in national elections (and in theory also the referendum, though voting forms didn't turn up) and a right to vote at local and European level here in the Netherlands. The brexit vote took away not only our right to live here, but also threatens to completely disenfranchise British people living in the EU27 countries so that they can't vote anywhere for anything and have to spend their lives hoping that policies formed by other people will not work against them. I don't find that acceptable but it's the "will of the (British) people" that other British people should be disenfranchised and it seems unlikely that this will be overturned.

We hung our flag out when we got this week's excellent news,
but we still have to wait until we can officially become Dutch.
Our response to the referendum result was quick: We did the only thing that we could do in order to maximise our chance of preserving our European citizenship. The only thing that could guarantee our being able to continue to conduct ourselves as citizens of a democracy. That's what it meant to begin the process of becoming Dutch citizens immediately after the referendum.

Our children became Dutch last year (they were educated here so had no need to prove their language ability). Judy and I are following them and we now know we've been successful in our attempt: after what was beginning to feel like an endless wait, we received the wonderful news just two days ago that we have been accepted and will become Dutch citizens. There are just a few more weeks to wait until it's made official by the King and we can attend a naturalisation ceremony.

Becoming Dutch
We are thankful that the Dutch government has stepped in and will protect our rights in future. This is the best possible outcome for us. We'll have the right to live in our own home and continue to run our own business in the same country as where our children live and we'll be able to participate as any other citizen in this most democratic of nations. It's an honour. We will be proud Dutch citizens.

When we become Dutch we will have to give up our British citizenship. This means we will no longer have the right to live and work in the UK. It's a strange thing to have to do, but one which has been forced upon us by people from the country in which we were born. We now see this loss of British citizenship as just one of the many costs of brexit for us, and we'll add it to the five figure financial sum which we've already lost due to brexit as well as the two years of sometimes quite horrendous stress which we've experienced. This will leave a permanent scar.

What about everyone else?
We are lucky enough to have now seen the worst of what brexit can throw at us and we have a light that we can see at the end of our tunnel, but brexit certainly has not finished with making other peoples' lives miserable.

The millions of others who remain in limbo, both EU27 citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27, have my greatest sympathy. I wish success to all of those who are trying to change their citizenship in order to retain the rights that they already have, as well as those who have chosen a different path which they are trying to make work. We have read many stories about families being split apart due to brexit or about people who have moved to the UK and are leaving because of how they have been treated and it has all been heart-breaking. People should not be treated this way.

Britain, what have you done ?

Photo from the citizenship ceremony with
the Mayor of Assen, Marco Out.
Update May 2018: Changing nationality
On the 7th of May Judy and I became Dutch citizens. Dual citizenship is not an option for us and so becoming Dutch means we have to renounce our British citizenship. With this step we've lost the right to be able to visit our country of birth. It's a big step to have taken, but it's also the only step that could guarantee us a life free from stress and doubt about what brexit would force upon us in the future.

While Britain forced us out, the Netherlands welcomed us. We're extremely happy to have become Dutch citizens.

Flags out again for Liberation Day in the Netherlands, two days before we became Dutch.
Update a bit later in May 2018
So we're Dutch now. Does that mean we'll no longer be affected by brexit ? Of course not. Our pensions are in the UK. We contributed over decades to both the state and private pension schemes in the UK and like most people we'd like to be able to make use of a pension when we retire (I reach retirement age in 15 years). But there are problems with the idea of having a happy old age because we were once British. I wrote a little about this in September 2016, but the situation has become more confused since then:

The state pension
The state pension has already suffered an approximately 20% drop in value due to the lowered value of the pound as a result of the brexit vote. We can expect the pound to drop further as the consequences of brexit become more clear and every drop means that our pensions drop as well, so the prospects of state pension already look poor. However that's not all:

It's become apparent that if the UK leaves the EU with no deal in place, which is still quite likely, then the UK will probably freeze the pension of every British person living in the EU at some arbitrary date; perhaps 29 March 2019. This means that when I eventually reach pension age I'll receive the rate of pension due to me as if I had reached pension age in 2019, rather than 15 years later. For the remainder of my life I'll receive a 2019 pension with no increases due to inflation. I'll have paid in the same as everyone else, but I won't get a pension in the same way as I would if I still lived in the UK.

This may all sound far-fetched, but it's exactly what the UK already does to pensioners who retire to, for instance, Canada, which is why there is an organisation there which is trying to convince the British government to treat British citizens in Canada in a more reasonable manner.

The private pension
My private pension is not large and it's split between several different schemes run by different companies due to my having worked for a variety of companies in the past. The result is that it's difficult to move because the fees to move the pension make up too high a proportion of its value. A good chunk of my pension was invested in commercial property in the UK before brexit and unfortunately as that began to drop in value due to brexit the fund itself was frozen so that I could not get my pension out before damage had been caused. This is of course on top of the 20% or so already lost to the currency devaluation.

Now I read that there are other problems on the way, including that with the loss of passporting rights, British pension companies won't actually be able to send me the money which I am due from them without breaking European law. One solution which is proposed is that they'd transfer the funds to an EU company which could pay me, but of course the transfer will take a large slice out of the remaining funds so that would have also a dramatic effect on my pension. I'll find out quite soon what will happen because when I signed up to one of my private pension funds (for the last computer company that I worked for) I said I wanted my retirement age to be 55. The fund is not large and it's not worth all that much. From this fund I should receive a pension of around 100 pounds a year from the age of 55 onwards (yes, just 100 pounds a year. i.e. about 30 p a day). But will I even get that ? That remains to be seen. If I do receive anything, how many euros will 100 pounds even be worth by that time ? That also remains to be seen.

As a result of the brexit vote we don't have a secure, let alone prosperous, old age ahead of us. Our UK pensions have been stolen or at the very least greatly diminished in value by the people who voted for brexit. Many retired people voted for brexit. Did they intend that those who would be retiring shortly after them would be thrust into poverty ? We did what we were supposed to and paid into the system, but the system is now firmly rigged against us. We do have very small NL state pensions as a result of working here for the last eleven years, but while those are not under threat, they're also not enough to keep us.

This update is largely based upon a very good article written by Ros Altmann. Ros is a pensions expert, economist and Conservative member of the House of Lords. She was previously Minister of State for Pensions. i.e. not someone who doesn't understand these issues but an expert. So she'll probably be ignored by all the ignoramuses who voted for brexit and still think it was a good idea.

Read all my blog posts about brexit:
Brexit: My country was taken from me
Brexit: There was plenty of information about what the EU did for UK  for those who sought it
Brexit: A long journey through uncertainty
Brexit: Where two years of brexit chaos have left us

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