As someone who’s lived in Britain my whole adult life, paid my taxes and never taken a penny in benefits, Theresa May's e-mail is nothing short of insultingby Jessica Furseth / November 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
As a European living in Brexit Britain, there’s not much I can do when these missives arrive from Theresa May. “Safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals in Europe is the first priority for [Brexit] negotiations,” said the last one, sent by the Home Office to everyone who signed up for notifications about what the hell is happening with our rights to stay.
“First priority”! I could practically hear the collective groan from the millions of people who know from personal experience over the past 18 months that this really isn’t true. I want to stay in the country that’s been my home for 17 years, but this isn’t what being “first priority” looks like—I’ve known that since 23rd June last year.
It’s jarring to read these emails proclaiming that the Prime Minister cares. Last month, Theresa May signed the email herself: “When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth,” she wrote. “I have been clear throughout this process that citizens’ rights are my first priority.” There it is again: “first priority.” And “clear”? This was the first time in the 483 days since the vote that May had said a word about it.
That silence left ample room for fear and confusion to brew. The vast majority of the 3.2 million Europeans in Britain, and the 1.2 million Brits in Europe, have taken a “wait and see” approach, hoping good sense would win out. We figure it makes little sense for the government to chuck us all—if for no reason other than the fact that EU migrants have paid £20 billion more into the system over the past decade than we took out.
But logic has never been the rationale behind Brexit, and as negotiations have progressed along with threats of walking away with “no deal,” it seems foolish to assume anything. I might be able to accept Theresa May’s claims to care about my fate had the Government been neutral on the issue, but they’ve been actively hostile—to the point that their claim that we’re now “first priority” just adds insult to injury.
What’s actually been happening since June 2016 is that Europeans have endured a seemingly endless slew of news describing the many ways in which Brexit could upend our lives. People looking to secure their rights to remain in Britain have been told by the Home Office they had to leave—some after making minor mistakes on a complex 85-page application form, other seemingly after a clerical error.
The Government also implied that EU residents would need to be registered and fingerprinted if they want to stay, and that companies would need to list all their foreign workers. EU citizens have been rejected for mortgages, and Eastern European kids have been bullied on playgrounds among a surge of hate crimes and abuse.
Students, freelancers, and stay-at-home parents who’ve lived in the UK for decades panicked after being told they wouldn’t qualify for residency because they didn’t have Comprehensive Sickness Cover—an obscure requirement that has never been enforced.
Many of these threats have since been reversed, but the effect of 18 months of constant hostility shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s no wonder that 122,000 people have left the UK since Brexit—it’s exhausting and demoralising to watch the country you thought was your home care so little whether you stay or go.
In the most recent email, we received a promise from the Home Office that “decisions [on settlement applications] will be based solely on the criteria set out in the Withdrawal Agreement.” But as the Brexit negotiations are not yet completed no one knows what this agreement will say, making this statement meaningless. The Home Office has said that the new application process will be more streamlined, with less room for arbitrary rejections over honest mistakes—which is nice. But unless the government wanted to spend the next decade processing millions of 85-page applications, this was the only real choice anyway.
Theresa May should have made these assurances of care and goodwill a year and a half ago. But instead, government has spent this time being, at best, indifferent to citizens’ rights, and at worst, hostile. The least they can do now is admit this. I could even understand if they told us they’ve had bigger concerns in the negotiations, as I’m sure there are many issues of equal concern to the fate of 4.4 million people. But the claim that we’re the “first priority” is simply infuriating.
As someone who’s lived in Britain my whole adult life, paid my taxes and never taken a penny in benefits, I find Theresa May’s claims that we’re “hugely valued” to ring empty. If she really wants to set things right, I suggest she start by acknowledging that for far too long, her valued Europeans have being left twisting in the wind.