Every morning, like many Brits, I listen to Radio 4 at breakfast. Except I’m not a Brit. Which means that since 23 June 2016, every morning, I am waiting for the news that I will be allowed to stay in the UK after Brexit.
In the year and almost a half since the UK voted to leave the European Union, no radio bulletin has brought that news. That’s because in the year and almost a half since the UK voted to leave the European Union, the UK government has been unable to guarantee the basic rights of EU citizens living here.
Two weeks ago, Theresa May told EU citizens during her Florence speech: “We want you to stay; we value you; and we thank you for your contribution to our national life – and it has been, and remains, one of my first goals in this negotiation to ensure that you can carry on living your lives as before.”
A week ago, at Conservative conference, she said: “If you are a citizen of the EU who has made their life in this country, I know you will feel unsettled and nervous. But let me be clear that we value the contribution you make to the life of our country. You are welcome here. And I urge the negotiating teams to reach agreement on this quickly because we want you to stay.”
Yet no real breakthrough has been made toward guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights in the UK after Brexit (and incidentally, those of UK citizens in the EU). The EU has repeatedly warned that sufficient progress hasn’t been met in Brexit talks. A significant change could be months away. The possibility of no deal is still on the cards.
In her LBC interview yesterday, Theresa May refused to guarantee right to remain for EU citizens in the UK in a no-deal scenario. It is out of her control, she said, adding that “EU members states would have to consider what their approach would be to the UK citizens”. And we found ourselves back to being bargaining chips.
I cannot stress this enough: three million people living in this country have received no guarantee from the British government that their life won’t turn upside down overnight. In 16 months. 63 weeks. 474 days.
That’s turning the radio on 474 times to listen to the same interview with a politician hoping for “the best possible deal” without any real idea of what the deal will be. That’s your friends, partner, co-workers, relatives back home, asking you what will your situation be after Brexit, to which you can only reply “no idea yet”, for 474 days. That may be your child asking if they will have to leave their school and friends; or your landlord being reluctant to renew your lease; or your boss wondering if they will have to terminate your contract. The questions never end and it never leaves you.
You too would feel “unsettled and nervous” if it had been a year and a half that you’ve lived in a country in which you no longer know if you have a future. You too, whatever the cost, the hassle and the laborious administrative steps, would consider or actively plan to leave a country that is refusing you a future.
Every European I talk to does. I know I do.
If you’re an EU citizen with a story to tell, you can email me at Pauline.Bock[at]newstatesman.co.uk, or fill in the form below.