Brexit Makes Me Angry, and You Should Be Too

Brexit makes me angry. It makes me very angry. This, as they say, might just be the proverbial understatement. There are no gritted teeth, just a visceral sense of powerlessness.

I live and work in Spain and have done for the last four years. I spend three months every year in the UK and the summer teaching there. My family and friends are in Edinburgh and my yearly holidays are spent there, too. I am and have always considered myself an economic migrant providing a service in Spain for which I am renumerated and duly taxed on.

When I left for Spain in 2014, I did so on one condition – minimal fuss. The opportunity to teach English abroad had arisen unexpectedly. I had limited Spanish proficiency and next to no knowledge of the country. It was a professional and personal gamble, and continuity of employment and negligible bureaucracy were of underlying importance.

In complete honesty, I wouldn’t have taken the punt at all if I had to worry about visas and the right to work. I was 26, had never taught before, and it would have been too much of a risk and expense. If the job wanted me, great – if it didn’t, I’d go home. The lack of bureaucratic ‘fluff’ made the situation infinitely easier and the rewards all the more satisfying.

After four years, Brexit has altered this. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations it’s implausible that the paper load will remain light for much longer. Worse still, the Office for National Statistics has vanquished the myth that my case is peculiar or unique.

New data has revealed that two-thirds of the 784,900 British citizens recorded as long-term residents in the European Union (excluding Ireland) are between 15 and 64 years-old. For the first time, it’s been proven unequivocally that the ‘expat in the sun’ cliche is more myth than a stereotype.

Elderly retirees are only one part of the demographic, and not the principle core. Most ‘expats’ are in the prime of their working lives and have committed to a life abroad predicated on circumstances about to change. The same is true for the 3.7 million EU citizens living and working in the United Kingdom. They, too, are also living in the shadow of profound doubt and speculation as to what their lives will look like on March 29, 2019.

There is an added dimension for both groups. Life, as they say, happens. I now have a fiancé of Macedonian heritage with Bulgarian citizenship (if there is a family relation Macedonians can claim a Bulgarian passport). Bulgarian citizenship, as an EU member, has given her the right to come and join me in Spain with the same ease with which I first moved. She is now a teacher, too.

Compare this to her family as a warning of things to come. When both my fiancé’s parents, who only have Macedonian citizenship, wanted to come and visit us in Britain, they had to apply for visas. The processing time is 15 days, but 3 weeks prior to travel is advised by the UK Home Office. The fee is €114 per application and requires a bank statement, proof of employment or business registration and an invitation letter or hotel reservation (all need to be notarized and officially translated).

The total cost is around €150 per person and the visitor visa is only valid for six months. In total their flights cost less compared to my fiancé’s brother who hopped on a plane from the Netherlands and visited for a long weekend because he felt like it. The cost to him was only the flight.

Before she obtained Bulgarian citizenship, my future wife’s life in Edinburgh was very different. As a non-EU citizen, not only did she need to be sponsored for work, but for six years she lived in fear of what the next Home Office might mean for her life and professional prospects. This, of course, is to say nothing of the astronomical costs of her education at Edinburgh University where we first met.

Fast forward to our life in Spain, and history is repeating in reverse. We want to get married and will, eventually, want to settle in the United Kingdom. Here’s the irony – while she is perfectly safe in Spain, I’m now worried about what will happen after Brexit. Conversely, while I know I can waltz back into the UK when I please, she has to worry about whether or not if she will be able to at all, irrespective of our marriage.

Pick your cliche. Carpet pulled from under your feet or wind knocked out of your sail? The UK Government is moving the goalposts long after the match has been played. This applies as much to the millions of European citizens in Britain as it does Britons in the EU. It feels very much as if I bought a car only to be told sometime later my licence is going to cost three times as much, or might not even be reissued at all.

Now – this is where the slightly irked, mostly p*ssed perspective comes into play. My fiancé could have been from any one of the 27 other countries in the EU, and the situation would be the same. This doubt, this fear, is happening to hundreds of thousands of families. Those British and EU citizens who migrated exercised their democratic freedom of movement at a time when the prospect of an EU referendum, never mind Brexit, was not even a talking point.

Most, if not all, of those people, have moved abroad with designs on the future. Whether they were workers, young families or retirees, they based their actions on a status quo that showed so sign of changing. From buying property to sending the kids to school or enjoying their retirement, they did nothing wrong. There was no foul play or illegality.

These are the real lives behind the statistics, and they have genuine fears about Brexit.

Whatever rhetoric the UK Government spouts about ‘getting the best deal for Britain’ it cannot guarantee a better arrangement for British nationals than what we have now. As the instigating party of Brexit, the EU bloc will reciprocate with whatever treatment the UK Government applies to European citizens in Britain. The UK Government’s attitude at the moment to foreign nationals from outside the EU is not a kindly forbearance of what Europeans nationals might expect after Britain leaves.

What makes Brexit so morally repugnant is the sheer absence of democratic accountability. The entire process would be more palpable if there were a precise series of what we might call ‘democratic checkpoints’. Prime Minister Theresa May had to be publically shamed into allowing Parliament a debate on the invocation of Article 50. She has refused a second referendum to validate the first, nor is she prepared to have any public vote on the final deal with the EU.

The Conservatives are not the only ones. Labour’s policy position on Brexit is ambiguous given the very public dissent within their party on the issue. While the Liberal Democrats and Green Party have called for a second referendum, the Scottish National Party, with some irony, has declared their support. There is no major political party capable, or willing, to challenge Brexit and the lack of agreement between the smaller parties makes a ‘People’s Vote’ highly unlikely.

If there is an epicentre of rage, it should be directed at the lack of clear-cut thinking across the political spectrum about what political parties want from a final deal. ‘The best deal for Britain’ is a tautology – the best situation is to remain in the largest customs union in the world. Neither the Conservative or Labour parties included detailed policy positions in their 2017 general election manifestos and neither party has provided detailed analysis on the projected economic and social consequences of Brexit.

The implications of withdrawing from the EU can only be known piecemeal and in its entirety after the 2019 departure date. Brexit could be catastrophic or nothing could change, but the public deserves to be consulted. That the electorate’s two main political parties have only reactive policy strategies to a potential calamity is appalling. That the public has no recourse as well to express a timely opinion on the matter is not only profoundly undemocratic but is the single most shocking abrogation of British democracy seen in the last century.

If that doesn’t make you angry, it should. If the UK Government can ignore and disregard its own electorate on such a profound and generational issue then no one is safe in the future.

Comments (22)

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  1. George Stewart Turner says:

    I couldn’t agree more. My wife is Italian and has lived here for 27 years. Post referendum she felt obliged to apply for a certificate of permanent residence in the UK and then go through the farcical ‘citizen’s test’ and the £1000 expense of obtaining UK citizenship. We have a significant number of friends who are highly qualified EU nationals, fed up with the uncertainty, who are not prepared to go through that bureaucracy and expense and have either relocated or are about to do so, much to the detriment of the UK. It is scandalous that EU citizenship is being unceremoniously stripped from the entire population on the basis of an advisory referendum in which 62% of Scots voted to retain

    1. Jo says:

      Really George? £1000? That is appalling! I think we don’t know the half of it out here. I’d have thought in those circumstances your wife wouldn’t have been affected.

  2. William Ross says:

    I am afraid that Alastair Stewart is another Remoaner fantastist.

    The Lisbon Treaty Article 50 gives each EU member state a clear right to exit the EU. ( Of course, they didn’t ask us whether we wanted Lisbon. No problems with Parliamentary sovereignty then)
    Is Article 50 never intended to be exercised?

    After the 2015 GE the Conservative party were elected to office on a manifesto promise to hold an in-out EU referendum. Subsequently, the UK Parliament voted for such a referendum by a huge margin which included Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems. Parliament said that it would be guided finally by the People. On June 23 2016, the British people voted to exit the EU in the greatest democratic vote in British history. This was ratified by the Parliament in voting for the Article 50 notice. ( Yes, Remoaners suddenly became very concerned about the Parliamentary sovereignty they had been eviscerating for 40 years) Then the 2017 GE was held in which parties in favour of Lancaster House Brexit ( out of the CU and the SM) won more than 80% of the total votes cast and a huge maJority in Westminster. They also won a clear majority of votes in Scotland. The one UK party that ran on a second EU referendum ( Lib-Dems) actually lost votes on its supposed nadir of 2015, coming in at some 8% in UK terms. The SNP lost more seats in Scotland than the Tories did in the whole UK, and Nicola “reset” Indy ref 2 despite having a “triple-lock” mandate ( ???)

    Now Remoaners are so concerned about democracy ( and fed up with Parliamentary sovereignty — again) that they want a second referendum. Keep on going guys…. We are enjoying the spectacle of Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell getting furious….

    According to Alastair, Brexit is “profoundly undemocratic” and a “most shocking abrogation of British democracy”. You are howling into the wind, amigo.

    The reality of the immigration situation for EU immigrants in the UK is that there is no chance of any EU citizen here being deported. Not a single Brexiteer ever argued for such a development, not even Nigel Farage. We are 99% there on agreement regarding citizens with the EU.

    Alastair, did it never occur to you that the British people should have been given a say when the concept of EU Citizenship was foisted on us without our consent or QMV was introduced via the Lisbon Treaty. What if Tony Blair had just taken us into the Euro? What if Parliament had simply voted to award us North American citizenship? Fundamental changes in the British constitution need approval via referendum. Have we learnt that lesson?

    Finally, I assume that you are sympathetic to Scottish independence since you are writing for Bella?
    What happens when Indy ref 2 is won for YES by 52 to 48? Can you imagine the forest of Alastairs who are going to emerge demanding a re-vote on one thing or another?

  3. Crubag says:

    I’d say queasy rather than angry, but then I voted Leave. Like indy itself it is a vote for a reset, for greater national control, and if we don’t like a particular direction, we will have the authority to change our policy. Even apply for EU, or EEA or EFTA membership, if that’s our desire. Though the parties proposing that as their policy (SNP, Lib Dems) have not done well in recent polls.

    But I must admit, I don’t understand this call for another vote. Is that a re-run of the referendum? Or as the Lib Dems seem to want a referendum on the exit deal?

    The European Commission are already on record that the notice to leave can’t be withdrawn, so a vote against the exit deal would mean leaving with no deal.

    Which is a possibility we should prepare for, as the exit deal could fall through anyway if it doesn’t gain a majority of the 27.

    1. leavergirl says:

      Looks to me like Brexit is being pretty much nullified by the Brit elites. May… well, someone recently said she could not say her name without a cue card. Sigh….

  4. Alba woman says:

    Alistair…your situation is so difficult and is, as you point out, shared by many others. Mr. Ross’s response read like a check list from a robot in Mr. Mundell’s office. What to say to anyone who would like to discuss democratic accountability issues surrounding this very emotional and stressful situation. Go away now …..you have had your democracy..Sort it out yourself or not,if we at the Scottish office, can help it.

    I apologise to you and your beloved for that response. I fervently hope that resolvement is the result of your fine efforts to live a life here with the person you love.

  5. Andy in Germany says:

    We are in a similar situation in Germany, I’m British, my wife is Japanese: we couldn’t live in the UK because the UK government has always been xenophobic and made it horrendously difficult for her to live there. But that was fine because as we were always told, it would be fine if you had the initiative: I got a job in Germany as an EU national, and she was allowed to live with me.
    Fast forward to Brexit and the UK government suddenly changed the rules.

    The irony is that we and most of the other UK nationals in the EU are the perfect examples of the Tory dream: we took the opportunities available to us, worked hard, earned money, and made a life for ourselves. That’s what we were supposed to do right? except that suddenly it was “No, not like that.”

    We had no say in Brexit even though it affected us more immediately than the 37% who decided it was better to leave because they didn’t like having polish neighbours. That’s 1.5 million British Citizens who didn’t get any say, We’ve been told it is ‘our fault’ and we ‘Gave up your right to decide’ by having an address with a German postcode. Which is strange because 3 million EU nationals with a British Address didn’t have a vote either. 4.5 million people excluded from a vote is a funny definition of democracy to me.

    I’m sickened by the way my own country is treating people in the name of ‘taking back control’, and the way that so many people seem to be taken in by the propaganda. You won’t get control: it’ll be given to the corporations, multinationals and elites.

    The 37% voted away the few rights that a UK national still had: employment rights, environmental protection, human right laws will be next to go, and every stage the scapegoat will be the EU or those nasty furriners. Hate crime is already rising as people see their attitudes espoused by political leaders, and they’ll be so busy chanting about immigrants that they’ll miss the quiet erosion of everything that protected them. By the time they notice it’ll be too late, and forget any chance of getting a job in Europe any more: you voted not to have that right as well.

    Thankfully we have had a very different experience in Germany: we’ve had 100% support from friends, employers and government offices. Germany has a constitution that protects us: in fact my wife had more protection as a Japanese married to a UK national in Germany, than a German would have married to a Brit in the UK.

    We were fortunate: we’ve lived in Germany long enough to qualify for nationality. I applied for, and got, dual nationality, and the German constitution says the state cannot split a family, meaning that we are all able to stay here, not being afraid of the next letter from the government. Cue howls of anger from Brexiters claiming we shouldn’t be allowed dual nationality: apparently it isn’t enough that you change the rules, you want us to let you to dictate how we deal with the situation.

    So in a way we win: we get to stay together and our children have much better education and employment prospects in a more egalitarian society, and I can come to the UK as long as I want, and leave when I want, and there’s nothing the right wingers can do about it.

    1. leavergirl says:

      Andy, Germany is pretty much trampling on human rights as we speak. Do you care? Just saw a Spiegel cover: Ist das unser Land? with a little dwarf covering its head in panic.

      Dunno… looking on all this squabbling makes no sense to me. Europe has far worse times ahead of it than Brexit could ever bring. Were it to be implemented. And the less I say about the expansive EUSSR the better.

  6. Redgauntlet says:

    Brexit is an incomprehensible decision from a rational point of view, giving up something for nothing on account of a bunch of illusions and fantasies, and a decision founded on the keystone myth that the people are actually sovereign in Britain, when we know they never have been sovereign….

    In England it’s parliament which is sovereign, not “the people”… Scotland has a different Constitutional history, though the SNP have never seem remotely interested in making that point, who knows why…

    …Brexiteers give lectures to Europeans on democracy in a country with an unelected Head of State, an unelected Second Chamber, whose ruling class, who run the country, are a bunch of overpriveleged, inbred toffs with a variety of life experience similar to a tadpole, and whose population have been brainwashed since at least Thatcher to believe they are actually smarter than other Europeans, better than other Europeans, more hard working and more responsible.

    The way the Brits have been brainwashed to think about the EU is similar to the way the Germans were brainwashed before the Second World War.

    No, I’m not talking about the Holocaust and the annihilation of the European Jews, I’m taking about the nostrum, which was backed by plenty of German intellectuals, and comes from as far back as Romanticism, that the Germans were the heir to the Greeks, or better said, German speakers in general were the heirs to classical Greece, the standard bearers of European civilization so to speak….

    Brexit is a 100% guaranteed catastrophic blunder which will transform Britain for the worse, with nefarious effects right across society.

    On the other hand, unless there is a decisive swing in the polls to Remain, I see no point in a second referendum.

    The failure of the SNP to capitalize on the biggest violation of Scottish sovereignty since 1707 is beyond belief…. the SNP have made no political capital out of the Brexit vote at all it seems to me… how can this be? How is it possible?

    The Brexit democratic deficit between Scotland and England is the key to the door of an independent Scotland in Europe…

    A national do

  7. w.b.robertson says:

    Brexit may make you angry — but I am delighted. And so are many Scots including one third of the Yes voters,

    1. MBC says:

      You must be well off then. Brexit has already caused a drop in the value of the £ meaning imported gas and food are more expensive. The poor are going to suffer the most.

  8. Big Jock says:

    I am angry because Scotland voted 62% to remain and we are just told to suck it up. I feel that this in itself is grounds for divorce. The UK government have just made it clear that on any issue they will just do whatever the majority wants. Unfortunately the majority reside in only one country of the UK. So the UK can never ever be democratic , it’s practically impossible. Unless of course you think that the UK is England and England is the UK.

  9. William Ross says:

    Alba woman

    You think I sound like a robot from Mundell`s office. That is odd because he represents NO/REMAIN and I, like nearly half a million other Yes voters, represent YES/LEAVE.

    Andy in Germany

    I did not vote Leave because I did not like Poles. That is a silly insult which makes no sense. I have great respect for Poland and for Polish immigrants. My wife is Venezuelan and my son was borne in Caracas. Thankfully, we no longer live in Caracas. I have nothing against immigration. I just want to control our borders and laws.

    Redgauntlet is full of the same old nonsense. Brexit a violation of Scottish sovereignty? Too much red wine and tapas? Estas loco?

    Big Jock

    How long is it going to take you to realise that Scots did not vote for Scotland to “remain” in the EU as an independent country. As UK citizens, they voted for the UK to remain. UK vote and UK question. No amount of bluster can change that. In 2014 the SNP advised us that a No vote could lead to Brexit. The Wings over Scotland Reverend predicted it on 19 Sept. 2014. Spot on Rev.!

    William

    1. Andy in Germany says:

      William Ross:

      “I have nothing against immigration. I just want to control our borders and laws. ”

      I hear that reason a lot. The only problem is that the EU allows full control of immigration. The idea that there was none was a right wing myth, like the 350 million for the NHS. Countries also have a choice to ratify laws or not in many cases. Germany, for example still has the first article of our constitution above EU law.

      For forty years the UK politicians have been taking the credit for beneficial EU laws, and then blaming the EU for anything that was unpopular. Now the protection of the EU is gone, the gloves will be off.

      Any you have no idea how many people have told me they voted leave because there were “too many polish people.” I’m very glad Germans don’t feel the same about us.

      1. Crubag says:

        The supremacy of Community law, through the ECJ, over national law is part of the doctrine of the Brussels institutions.

        And really it has to be, how else can you have an effective union?

        The German Federal Constitutional Court has been famously tetchy about this, most recently over the euro rescue packages, but has never actually walked the talk. In practice they have had to endorse the ECJ judgements and conditions whatever their individual or collective misgivings.

        1. Crubag says:

          And to add that both the CDU (Merkel’s party) and the partner Bavarian CSU have embraced the Orban government – despite its judicial interventions. They all belong to the same currently dominant party, the centre-right European People’s (not Peoples’) Party.

      2. leavergirl says:

        Haha. If EU “allows” full control of immigration, why are they always yelling at Hungary, which is the only country in continental Europe that has done just that?

  10. Dougie Blackwood says:

    The UK has been led by the xenophobic tabloid press and Nigel Farage into Brexit. There was a lack of leadership and the failure to adequately counter the huge amounts money spent to promote the many lies peddled by the leave campaign.

    The Labour Party have failed in their opposition’s duty to hold the government to account. We are now in the hands of this small group of fascist people with their agenda and their publicist press. It is very difficult to see any sensible outcome other than the Scottish lifeboat of independence.

  11. William Ross says:

    Andy in Germany

    I am sorry that you are not well informed regarding immigration. Within the EU, that is a “country” of 500 million people there is free movement of people. During the referendum Cameron was asked by his campaign team to put forward an argument that could counter Leave’s emphasis on taking control of immigration. He even called Merkel, but there was nothing that could be done.

    £350 million is a slogan reflecting the gross value that we are committed to funding Brussels per week. The net amount is more like £200 million. So what? The important truth is that we are huge net contributors to the EU, and that fact has driven exit negotiations.

    The EU website makes it clear that some 80% of EU laws are passed through QMV. Some 60% of all our laws come from the EU. The unelected EU Commission has the SOLE right to initiate EU legislation. The EU Parliament is a fake pretendy Parliament which represents no-one. Sorry, you can have your EU country.

    One of the saddest arguments that you make is that you have more faith in the EU oligarchy to make just laws than the British ( or Scottish) people. That is chilling.

    1. MBC says:

      The EU makes better laws than the UK. It’s thanks to the EU laws that we have cleaner beaches, purer water, lesser waste going to landfill, higher food standards, and fish stocks, (and a fishing industry). I’d rather be in the EU than muck heap UK.

  12. John Paul Tonner says:

    By attending Strathclyde Uni in 1998 (in the post-New Labour, pre-Scottish Parliament window of history), I am one of the few Scots to be stung by university fees.

    Thankfully, I switched courses and spent 3 years at NUI Galway. As an EU citizen, I was exempt from fees.

    I’d like to take a moment to thank the EU for providing me with something the UK hasn’t been capable of gifting its citizens for the last 20 years: free tertiary education.

    Now, two decades later, I find myself fighting for a public sector wage increase to rectify years of Government imposed austerity.

    Serious question to Brexiteers: why should I want to give more power to the entity that has brought me student debt, wage austerity and social immobility? I’ve no solid basis to trust Westminster currently, never mind with more powers at its disposal. I struggle to understand why so many Yes-Leavers voted to do so.

  13. William Ross says:

    John Paul

    You make an interesting point. You got a good education free of fees in NUI Galway. Was the ROI Government required to offer you this under EU law because it offered free education to its own citizens? Then it would be like Scotland today.

    Even though I am the beneficiary of entirely free tertiary education ( no fees and grant support) I have to say that there are issues regarding tuition- free education. It looks like a middle class benefit …………

    But leaving that debate aside, you are off course quite right to assert that the EU oligarchy is more than capable of coming up with and implementing good ideas. It is not a totalitarian oligarchy just a bureaucratic one. Mussolini who was a totalitarian made the trains run on time and devastated the Mafia. The real issue is who decides the policies and makes the funding decisions? Is it Holyrood or Westminster, with all their faults or the unelected elitist EU Commission.

    If you put your faith in oligarchs rather than your fellow citizens then I worry for you. Should you not re-think this?

    By the way, you are now fighting austerity. Well remember the EU Commission that you are supporting has imposed 1930’s style austerity right across Southern Europe. I can just hear Crocodile Dundee saying, is his Aussie drawl: ” Austerity, you call that austerity Mate? THIS IS AUSTERITY”

    William

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