Monday, 17 December 2018

Upgrading Windows to version 3 (Continuing to insulate our home with triple glazing)

Our windows were fitted by Van Dijk Services
Assen. They did a good job so deserve a link.
We knew we'd have to do something about the insulation of our home in Assen before we even moved in and every year we've made some change to improve the energy efficiency of our home. One of the oddities of 1970s Dutch homes is that while they had double glazing on the main rooms on the ground floor, it was quite common to have single glazing in places like the hall and all of the bedrooms upstairs. We fixed that problem eight years ago by installing HR++ double glazing to replace all the single glass and this was very effective. But we kept the same older windows downstairs.

It took a while for us to get around to considering the downstairs windows because we were busy with insulating the floor, the roof, the walls, installing solar panels on the roof, our bicycle parts business, and generally getting on with life, but we've now begun. In fact, we did one of the smaller panes last year because the old double glazing had developed a leak and we took this as an opportunity to experiment with triple glazing. We made measurements and found that it was effective. When the outside temperature was -2 C and the inside temperature 17.5 C the temperature of the inside of a double glazed pane was measured as 9 C while the inside of the triple glazed window alongside it measured 14 C. Clearly we could stay warmer with less heating if we replaced more of the old double glazing downstairs in our home with triple glazing.

Thus far we've replaced the glass only on the front of our home. We're still not entirely sure what we'll do on the back of house, but there is less than half the area of double glazing in the living room on the back compared with the front.

One of the old panes being removed

The replacement coming into place. It took some lifting because it weighed 127 kg.

Fixing into place

Just fitted, not made neat and tidy yet.

A tidy job completed. We now have to wait a couple of days before we can clean the glass because the sealant has to dry first.
Travel less, nor more, insulate your home
and don't eat meat
.
We hope this will reduce our gas consumption and our heating bill. We already have a very low energy bill because we generate more electricity than we use. The gas bill, which covers cooking and water heating as well as heating, is also low and has reduced each year. Dutch bills are increasing quite sharply this year due to increased tax on gas, but our estimate for next year is the same as this year, and the energy company doesn't know that we've taken measures which hopefully will reduce our usage further.

It's becoming more and more obvious to us that we can't continue to increase our energy usage but must decrease it. We must decrease our burning of fossil fuels. There is little time left to do this. The IPCC report from the 8th of October told us that emissions need to be reduced to zero in 12 years time. Who is doing enough to make that happen ?

Because of our concerns we are not only continuing to make our home more efficient but have also got rid of our car and stopped our business of offering holidays and study tours. Encouraging people to make international journeys to cycle is just not of this time. We must all stop behaving as if we can do whatever we like without consequences. Our children and our grandchildren, not to mention millions of people in poorer countries, are being made to pay for our own selfishness.

Yesterday afternoon. Four identical houses, ours is on the left. We're winning the race to keep ice on the roof from melting. Luckily it was somewhat warmer today.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Brexit: If the UK now remains in the EU how will it compensate EU citizens for their losses ?

EU27 leaders endorsing the Brexit withdrawal agreement
Last Sunday the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was signed by both the UK and the EU27 states. It has been made clear by many EU leaders that there is precisely one withdrawal agreement and they have no intention of negotiating another in the four months left until the UK leaves the EU. That's it. There will be no more negotiation. This has been made clear.

The choice that the UK now faces is between the deal which Theresa May has already signed or no deal at all. The first of those will damage the British economy and to a lesser extent also EU economies, but it will go some way to protect the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. "No deal" will be catastrophic.

The EU has offered a remarkably generous withdrawal agreement. which was signed by the Prime Minister only to result in other British politicians and some elements of the press discussing it if they've been blackmailed. Whatever happened to the concept of diplomacy ? How do you intend to remain friends with the other EU nations and their citizens ?

In the few days since that time, the response from British people seems to have been that they will consider almost any other option other than the two choices which are now on the table. There are groups of people who want each of these options:
  • Re-open negotiations to get some other agreement from the EU though it's been made very clear that this will not happen.
  • Another referendum (a "people's vote"), which of course the British can do if they want but they should not expect that an internal vote will have influence outside their country.
  • A general election to try to bring in Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour Prime Minister, even though he has absolutely failed to oppose the government during his time as leader of the opposition.
  • Unilaterally reverse brexit and remain in the EU with the existing preferential terms of membership.
  • An arrangement similar to that which Norway has now.
  • No deal as deliberate policy while continuing to lie about the likely negative consequences for the country.
A few days later, at the Spectator awards. David Davis and Dominic Raab,
two brexit secretaries who quit without finishing the job, accept a joint
"Cabinet Resignation Of The Year" prize. They were fundamental in
causing chaos and they're smiling about it. No reflection here of the
damage they caused to other nations or even to their own.
What all of these options have in common is that the other 27 nations who are remaining in the EU are apparently supposed to blindly accept whatever it is that the British people decide to choose for themselves, whenever they choose it for themselves.

There's even a court case going on at the moment to decide whether or not the the UK can unilaterally reverse brexit and force that reversal on all the other member states. This is of course very unlikely to be allowed because it would open the EU to a type of extortion by member states.

At this point many British people, even many of those who see themselves as pro-EU "remainers" are still talking as if the UK is exceptional, can decide on any path for itself without considering the other nations, and can control the entire bloc even at a point in time where it's on the edge of leaving that bloc (or maybe they think they're not leaving as they haven't bothered to make up their minds as yet).

Brexit is not just about the UK
Quite apart from the absurdity of the idea that one nation which is leaving a bloc should expect to be able to change things for the 27 who are remaining, it seems to me that we have gone rather a long way past the time when British people ought to have worked out that the UK does not exist in a vacuum and that brexit has not happened in a vacuum either.

The effects of the brexit vote have not been limited to Britain or to British citizens. Much damage has been caused over the last two and a half years to citizens of the other 27 nations. The chaos from the UK has affected and will further affect everyone in the EU. Millions of people have lost billions of euros as a result of the UK's brexit vote and the subsequent uncertainty and chaos. Some people have lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses, a few even their lives, and very many people who never had a choice in this at all have lived with a considerable amount of stress for the last two and a half years.

Speaking for ourselves, our family was affected in a major way. We quickly realised that the only way we could ensure that we could remain living in our own homes, whatever the final outcome, would be by changing our nationality from British to Dutch. Not to have done this put us in harm's way if a brexit outcome which didn't protect our rights was the result. It was a difficult decision to make: Dual citizenship was not possible in our case so the votes of other British people resulted in us losing our right to live in our country of birth. The process of changing citizenship cost us several thousand euros and, in addition, a brexit related decline in our largely UK facing business (only UK sales dropped, not those to other markets) cost us tens of thousands of euros in lost sales. In addition we have experienced monumental stress due to having to take exams, provide evidence of citizenship (or lack of it), send important, expensive and sometimes irreplaceable documents through the post to provide evidence in the UK and the Netherlands. This stress lasted a long time: We started this process in June 2016 immediately after the referendum result but it took until just two weeks ago before we received our final letters from the Dutch government to say that our case was closed, we could definitely remain Dutch, and that we were therefore safe. But this has not been an easy time for our family. We, like millions of others, have been damaged by brexit.

A question for the remainers
I can't see how you can expect to turn back the clock without there being any negative effect. The UK has benefited enormously from the EU, it has benefited at the expense of other nations due to having been allowed special conditions which other nations did not benefit from. You have now caused great problems for the other nations and it's time for a bit of reflection and humility.

This leaves me with a question for those British people who now still think they can reverse article 50 and remain in the EU:


What plan does the UK have to reimburse for the losses that your country's actions have caused for EU27 citizens ?

Update 10 December 2018
The ECJ has ruled that the UK can unilaterally revoke article 50 and retain all the existing terms of membership "following a democratic process" which demonstrates that this is what the people want. We will now watch and see whether the UK takes advantage of this remarkably generous offer.

Note that it does not resolve anything for the millions of people who are still billions of euros down due to the brexit vote. It does not resolve anything for those who have lost homes, jobs or their nationality due to brexit.

Brexit was never an issue which only affected the UK and UK citizens. When will the UK offer compensation for the damage which the country has done to nationals of other countries ?

There's also the question of where this leaves the UK. If the UK withdraws the article 50 notice before it has taken on the reasons why British people voted to leave in the 2016 referendum then there is every chance that a Farage2 and a UKIP2 will continue to cause chaos and that there will continue to be people who cause chaos and who push for a brexit. If the issues are not resolved in the UK and the UK remains in the EU then that is bad news for every EU nation..

This is the last so far of a series of six blog posts about brexit:
Brexit: My country was taken from me (June 2016 + many later updates)
Brexit: There was plenty of information about what the EU did for UK  for those who sought it (October 2017)
Brexit: A long journey through uncertainty (October 2017)
Brexit: Where two years of brexit chaos have left us (February 2018)
Brexit: One year left for the UK to leave the EU and we're very nearly Dutch (March 2018)

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Fixing an ABB/Solar One Aurora Uno inverter with Int. Error E031

Our Power One Uno with the fatal "Error! Int. Error E031"
A couple of days ago our ABB/Power One Aurora Uno inverter stopped working. It starts up, clicks relays and display "Error! Int.Error   E031". Nothing more happens. It's six years old, so just out of the five year manufacturer's guarantee period. Not a good sign.

Searching on the internet suggests that this is a very common fault and people claim it's a faulty relay. However, no-one seemed to be offering advice on how to fit the fault.

I didn't want to replace the entire inverter. A repair is preferred because the whole reason to have a solar energy system is to conserve resources. Throwing out a huge device like this because of a minor fault goes completely against our reasoning for installing the product in the first place.

ABB offered absolutely no help at all. Their reply to me was useless even to the extent of not bothering to get my name right: their swiftly cut and pasted reply to say "we won't help at all" was addressed to someone called "Emmanuel".

The company which installed the inverter in the first place did offer a reasonable price for a replacement (from a different manufacturer and with a ten year guarantee) but that would cost us €1000 and of course it would still mean throwing out a mostly good existing unit. It turns out that the failed part is nothing more than a €5 relay on one of the printed circuit boards within the inverter.
Discolouration about the relay shows that it's failed.
The other side of the PCB has a crater in it from the pin on the relay melting/burning away.
Anyway, long story cut short, if you want to know how to repair one of these inverters click on the following line:


Hopefully the repair will be good for another five years. If I find myself buying a replacement inverter in a few years time, it won't be bought from ABB as their customer service is absolutely useless.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Six year solar power anniversary: We're still pleased with the system.

We've had 16 solar panels on the roof of our home for six years today. In total they've generated 20459 kWh of electricity. Our electricity meter reads 7022 kWh this morning, vs. 7814 kWh on the morning of the 5th of April 2012 when the panels were installed, indicating that we've generated 792 kWh more than we've used over the last six years. You can see this in the graph below. Note how the yellow line has tilted upwards over time:

Solar power 2012 - 2018. Blue bars show generation per month. Red bars show consumption per month. Yellow line shows difference between generation and consumption. Last year we overproduced 
For the first few years our consumption was closer to the total generation but a few things changed which made a fairly dramatic difference in consumption over the last two years:
This simple switch saves standby
current to computer and printer,
making a considerable saving.
  1. We work from home and as ours is a web-based business we use computers a lot. Newer second hand computers replaced the older Pentium 4 based machines a few years ago and they consume a lot less electricity when in use.
  2. When I measured the usage of our computers and laser printers I found that they consumed almost as much electricity in the many hours when they were switched off as they did in the smaller number of hours when we were using them. The printer was especially bad in this regard. To counter this problem I installed an inexpensive switch which completely disconnects our laser printer and computers from the mains power when they're not in use.
  3. Almost all the older compact fluorescent lightbulbs have now failed and been replaced by LED lightbulbs. This made almost no difference at all.
  4. Our children left home, which made a dramatic difference to our total energy consumption.
The Netherlands. Bicycles & windmills
are a stereotype. Sadly, some people are
protesting against wind power here.
The blue lines on the graph show the production of electricity on each month. You'll note that our production in winter is far less than our consumption. On the shortest day in December our solar panels produced just 0.2 kWh of electricity. The peak output for that day was 111 W. That's from an array that peaks above 3900 W on especially good summer days. Output in winter can be as low as 1/40th of that in summer. At night time, whether summer or winter, the output of solar panels is zero. This is why solar power really cannot be used for everything. It's important also to have other green sources of energy to balance the supply. In the Netherlands that really has to mean wind turbines, though sadly some people don't seem to understand why that is important and there have been protests against wind turbines.

Standby power
The switch which I use to disconnect the computers and laser printer from the mains electricity cost about €1 to buy and has saved €100s of euros so far. This was possible because the standby consumption of the computer and monitor power supplies and, even worse, the laser printer, were surprisingly high. They totalled over 20 W. Not all such attempts make the same difference. Unplugging the likes of mobile phone chargers is completely pointless because their consumption is measured in mW. Unless something gets warm it's not consuming any energy.

Have we been economically successful with solar power?
When we installed our solar power system I predicted that it would take about ten years to pay for itself. After six years it now looks like it will take a little longer than predicted but not dramatically so, or uneconomically so.

The price per kWh has varied over time but currently our supplier gives a value of 17 cents excluding tax, working out to about 20.5 cents per kWh including tax. That values the 19997 kWh of electricity that we consumed at about €4030. Our overproduction is valued at only 7 cents per kWh meaning that this was worth about €55. i.e. after six years we've "earnt" about €4080 from the system and we're about half way to paying back the cost of installation.

While we generate more electricity than we consume that
does not mean everything in our household runs on our solar
electricity. During the night and in winter we use energy from
the grid and most of that in the Netherlands comes from
fossil ful.
Rather than taking ten years to repay, it looks like it will actually take about 13. That's still quite good. It still easily beats putting the money in a bank account (especially with the low interest rates over the last few years). The panels are expected to last a minimum of 20 years producing their rated output so will continue to produce electricity well after they've been completely paid for.

If you're considering installing a system now you will do better than us because the costs have come down considerably. Installers are now claiming that the payback period can be as short as five years, which may be slightly optimistic but this is still likely to be one of the best investments anyone can make.

How long will the inverter last ?
A friend of ours had a nearly identical system installed at the same time as us and his inverter failed a month or so ago. Perhaps our inverter will fail similarly. We expected from the beginning that the inverter would be the weak point: it's a hard working piece of power electronics. Luckily, inverters have dramatically dropped in price. The cost of replacing the inverter is expected to be about a tenth of the total cost of our system, so it will extent the repayment time by about a year. If we have to do this it will be annoying but it will still be worthwhile.

What next for us ?
We have made considerable progress on insulating our home, bringing dramatic results for our gas consumption. We've considered the idea of stopping use of gas altogether, cutting not only the €50 per month that we pay for gas but also the €18 fixed charges for the connection. If we switched to an electrical heat pump to replace the gas boiler for central heating we could eliminate this cost. Because we would no longer require the chimneys on our roof we could then install a few more solar panels instead to produce about as much electricity as our total consumption.

Unfortunately this is currently impossible to justify because the repayment time works out as somewhat longer than the expected lifespan of a heat pump, let alone the other extra costs involved. For now we'll concentrate on continuing to make our home more energy efficient while waiting for a suitable more efficient non-gas heating system to become available.

Elsewhere in Assen: A small section of what was claimed to be (when it opened in 2016) the largest solar covered motor bike parking facility in the world - at the TT track.

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 - They're going after our pensions again
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.


My new passport eclipsing my old passport, which is soon
to be disposed of - by paying a newly enhanced punishment
extra cost to the Home Office.
Update 29 May 2018
Today we picked up our new Dutch passports. Dutch passports take just a week to be issued and they cost just €65. That's a very long way removed from the rip-off price charged by the UK government for our last passports which we bought six years ago while living here in the Netherlands. Britain has long treated "ex pats" as cash cows.

All that is left for us to do now is to renounce our British citizenship, but overnight we discover that the cost of renunciation has been put up up by 16%. It now costs 372 pounds to get rid of a British passport instead of 321 last year. An extra 100 pounds that we'll have to pay to rip-off Britain just to get rid of our British citizenship. We'll pay it because we have no choice but to pay it. At this point that extra 100 pounds is merely a rounding error. It's less than 1% of what brexit has cost us so far, and it'll become even less significant in the long term as we expect to be stiffed on our British pensions as well.

As Britain leaves the EU the country appears to be set on a path of burning all bridges. The Windrush scandal showed Commonwealth citizens the truth about the UK. EU citizens in the UK are suffering at the hands of the Home Office and now we find that ex British citizens are also being punished for leaving, when the country has made it very difficult for its citizens to do anything else but leave. When Britain wants to make trade deals in the future, who does the country expect to work with ? All the people that have been insulted and mis-treated ?

The picture is now quite clear. Britain is isolating itself. Those who can leave, those have both the means and the "get up and go" are getting up and going.

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

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.

Is this what passes for good news now ? 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.