I was thrilled with the guest posts on Brexit from Roger, Colette, Frank and Gary, and thought that project had likely run its course for the moment, when my friend Bee asked if she could contribute a post. I immediately jumped on that opportunity, for Bee’s perspective will, no doubt, be significantly different than the previous four. You see, Bee is a German national who has been living in the UK for quite some time … not sure how long … and she fears being forced to leave and return to Germany when Brexit, deal or no-deal, is complete. Bee’s post is heartfelt, and I think presents a side we haven’t seen before, so please take a few minutes to read her tale. Thank you so much, dear Bee!
Yesterday, I read the views on Brexit from several of my fellow bloggers here on Jill’s blog. Thanks very much, Jill, for giving us the platform to express our experiences and views. All of their posts and many of the comments taught me a lot. But it felt that the view from an EU immigrant to the UK on Brexit was missing. So, I decided to give my pound’s worth of opinion too.
I am sorry, but this will be a bit messy because my mind is a jungle, and Brexit is very personal for me. For me, Brexit is not a theoretical mind game that might or might not bring me advantages of any sort. Brexit means in a worst-case scenario, the existence I have built here is going to be destroyed.
The worst-case scenario would be, I apply for “Settled Status” which allows EU citizens to stay in the UK with mostly the same rights as before, but were rejected. Currently, that means I would have to leave the UK within four weeks. We have a house with a mortgage and jobs here. How do you create a new life within four weeks?
Let’s assume we would go to my home country, Germany. Many think that because I am German I would get help from there but nope: for the last 12 years I have paid my taxes and social contributions here in Britain, so why should they give me anything? I am not sure if we could get any help from the UK, but chances are we would not.
Germany is, like the UK, interested in “useful” immigrants who can work, pay taxes and bring in skills that are needed. My husband has a back problem and at nearly 60 wants to settle down and not to start all over again. It is unlikely he would easily find a job in Germany or elsewhere. We also do not have a big bank account to cushion any decision we would have to make. He would go with me despite all, but he would leave his children and all security behind but what for? Because some people don’t believe the EU gives Britain any benefits? So please bear with me if I am sarcastic, angry and very scared.
I read in some of the previous posts about Brexit that immigration isn’t the main reason for voting to leave. However, to me, this looks differently maybe because of where we live. Our home is Norfolk which is a rather rural county in the East of England. Most jobs are in agriculture and tourism unless you are in Norwich, the only city in Norfolk. Norwich has a university, a thriving tech industry and it probably doesn’t surprise you that Norwich mainly voted to remain while the rest of Norfolk mainly voted to leave.
Both tourism and agriculture are heavily dependent on seasonal EU workers. To those Norfolk residents, who do not have a job, it appears that EU workers “steal” the jobs they feel are theirs. Since the referendum, the influx of seasonal EU workers seems to have decreased though. But it doesn’t look like the vacancies are taken by jobless leave voters. They are simply not filled while farmers and restaurant owners say that they just can’t find staff that is qualified enough and/or is willing to work the necessary hours. The same goes for care staff, nurses and doctors by the way.
Leave voters I know, do say that immigration was a huge reason why they voted to leave. They mention how EU immigrants come with filled-in forms to get benefits while British people can’t get any. I have not researched how much any of this is true. However, I have tried to get benefits this August after nearly 1 1/2 years without a job. Imagine my surprise when I was told that I only qualified for 6 months of job seekers allowance. To get this my husband had to sign up as well even though he had a job. The British benefits system is complicated and has changed a lot in recent years that’s why it would go too far to explain that as well.
On top, I had to prove that I had the right to get any benefit in the UK. This entailed an interview with someone from the jobcentre where I had to bring all the proof I had that I didn’t spend all my time in Germany or elsewhere. I also needed to prove that I work and live here. I was told, I would need to tell them every time I moved within the UK, how often and when exactly I left to go on holiday and whatever else that person felt they needed to know to grant me the benefit. At that point, I gave up because I can hardly remember what I did last week, let alone remember when I went on holiday ten years ago. Also, my husband would not have to prove all this. Both of us were rather appalled that I would need to be investigated like this, especially as they have my social security number. They know what I earned and where I worked.
I also think they probably know better than I when I was abroad: There are only three ways to come and go from the UK: you fly, you use a ferry, or you use the channel train. In all occasions, you have to show your passport because Britain did not sign the Schengen agreement. You can travel without your passport being checked in European countries that have signed the Schengen agreement. Even when we went to Switzerland which isn’t in the European Union but has an agreement on travel and trade with the EU, we didn’t show our passports once at the Swiss border. However, we had to show them when we left and came back to Britain. So surely they know how often I left the UK?
What surprises me about the Brexit debate, in general, is the view most people seem to have about the EU. For most people, not only in the UK but also all over Europe, membership in the EU mainly seems to be a question of business and economy. However, one of the main reasons why the EU was founded after the second world war was Peace. Europe had seen wars between its countries for centuries, and it culminated in WWII. The founding fathers and mothers of the European Union had experienced the destruction and human cost this war had brought, so their aim was firstly peace, and secondly a thriving economy for all of us. In all this struggle of a changing world, we do forget how important peace is for our countries wellbeing.
Peace is what the European Union mainly symbolises for me. To me, it is the guarantee that Europeans work together for peaceful and prosperous countries. Yes, this Union of now 27 countries is far from perfect. But maybe it would be a good idea for European voters not to practice protest votes which result in getting people into the European parliament who are against everything EU? Surely if you vote for someone like Nigel Farage (who, by the way, had a German wife, and now has a French girl-friend, but campaigned against the EU for ages) to be your Member of European Parliament (MEP) you can’t be surprised that there are bad decisions made for your country on EU level?
Many European voters use the EU elections to vent frustration about many topics. But the EU-critical MEP’s they vote in, of course, do not do a fully constructive job. Most won’t make anything done in the EU look positive. So much of the anti-EU sentiment in any European country today might be non-existent if we only had MEP’s who are devoted European Unionists. This is not a particularly British problem either. All European countries face anti-European tendencies, and I often said after the referendum: “If Germany had this referendum it would have gone the same way. German politicians are just not so stupid to do such a referendum.”
The EU certainly needs improvement, and most EU politicians are fully aware of it. However, they can’t get on with that job because the whole union is currently occupied with getting Brexit done. And the stakes are high on both sides. I recently read that Germany would lose about 100,000 jobs if the EU and Britain would not be able to strike a deal. That is a lot of jobs and can get any politician in trouble. But as far as I can see, most Germans think: “No matter the cost and no matter how flawed, the European Union is worth it!” And that seems to be the opinion of most Europeans outside of the UK.
I am fully aware that my points are just a tiny little part of the whole complex problem of Brexit and not very well researched or explained. To me, it is not only disenfranchised jobless voters who want to get rid of any immigrant, or lazy politicians who follow their agenda and not the good for the people who voted for them. Brexit is the expression of humans who feel that their life and their society does not offer them the possibility to live the best possible life. The reasons for this are many, and no one quite understands them, so many look for easy answers. In this case: “If only we could leave the EU all will be well”.
Unfortunately, easy answers never solve complex problems, and it hurts me to see the country I chose as my home and which I love, in this unholy mess, that might never be solved. It hurts me to see families, friends and communities so divided, so angry and so lost. But maybe this pain and division are necessary for us to become open for previously unthought solutions that let us live our best possible lives. I so very much hope for this!
*** Note to Readers: Bee asked me to add the following information to her post:
I have lived in the UK since 2007 and have worked at the same company from the beginning until March 2018 when my mental health took a turn to the worst partly because of the insecurity of Brexit. Since September I am working in a new job.