One of the more sickening aspects of Brexit is the impact it has had on the lives of EU citizens, resident or working in the UK. They came to this country in good faith, believing – in retrospect naively – that Britain is open and tolerant. In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK, collected and edited by Elena Remigi, Véronique Martin and Tim Sykes, publisher: CreateSpace (2017), contains their stories – over 130 of them.
In his introduction, the poet and translator George Szirtes talks of ‘a Leave campaign that overtly encouraged “British” people to regard all EU nationals as parasites, leeching off systems intended purely for the benefit of native Britons’.
To do justice to the book you really need to read it from cover to cover, but these excerpts should suffice to give a picture of how our fellow Europeans feel.
‘A typical reaction to the Referendum itself is ‘I feel passionately about the European project, and to see it rejected on the base of venomous lies and blatant ignorance was painful to see’; ‘Why did they not explain the vast benefits of the EU to everyone?’; ‘I have come to realise this divided country has been created by self-serving politicians who have been feeding their citizens meals of propaganda with a Daily Mail dessert’; ‘The open, multicultural and cosmopolitan Britain that attracted me has become “little England” with all its xenophobia and pettiness highlighted and revealed at its vilest’.
This has led to a feeling of betrayal by Britain:
- ‘the wound inflicted is still raw’;
- ‘I feel terribly let down, like a lemon squeezed for its juice and then conveniently discarded’;
- ‘I am completely heartbroken because I have always seen the good in people and, for me, to see the hatred is like a dagger in my heart’.
… and betrayal by friends and family:
- ‘I discovered I essentially do not have any real friends any more and am now unsure if I ever did’;
- ‘The day after the referendum I found out that my husband had voted Leave – “Because I want the best for our children”, he said. “You’ve been here for 14 years, you’ve always worked, you’ll be OK!” But I am not OK. I feel betrayed by the man I love’;
- and from a mother’s unwritten letter to her toddler wondering whether to ‘tell you that your closest uncle’s reactions to my fears and frustration was to tell me to f**k off back to France…’.
There are echoes of Martin Niemöller’s poem:
(‘First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew’).
- ‘The silence of the majority of my British friends about our situation has been deafening’;
- ‘… on arrival at work [a university!] several members of staff clamoured “Yeah! Finally out!! SEE, not all people who voted out are uneducated idiots”’.
- ‘We finally decided that she [17-yr old daughter] should see a counsellor. When she explained that she was having panic attacks due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and her future the counsellor said “Oh, it’s not that we don’t want you, we just don’t want so many of you”…’
- From an open letter to British friends: ‘I can be handcuffed and forced onto a bus or a train. And then onto a ferry. How would you feel if that happened to you if you had done nothing wrong? How would you feel if your lifelong friends, who did have a vote in this, knew that this would happen to you and did nothing?’
Then there is the mindless aggression:
- ‘I have been told to “return to Frogland, bitch”’;
- a number of contributors report people objecting to immigrants speaking foreign languages in public;
- ‘I have had… online abuse hurled at me for being a ”lefty wanker”, “commie bastard”, “Johnny Foreigner”…’.
Many contributors point to the loss to the UK caused by Brexit: ‘A “burden”? I discovered a cure for a disease during these years’; ‘The UK loses a future taxpayer and a not-so-bad brain [the speaker has a PhD], but it would seem that brains have gone out of fashion here anyway’; ‘Here’s a thought: maybe it is the rejection of all these foreign bodies that will cause the United Kingdom to collapse on itself; maybe it is all these little people with funny accents who will turn out to have been the cement which kept it all together’.
And inevitably there are fears for the future:
- ‘I am angry … on behalf of the future generations of British children who will not be presented with the same opportunities as we were. Everything in a young life should be about progress, about looking forward to the next stage. But how can youngsters look forward if they are growing up in a country that is determined only to look backwards?’;
- ‘Often I just feel I’m acting out the words of Stevie Smith’s poem: Not waving but drowning’.
- ‘The UK keeps on shifting the goal posts for permanent residency and citizenship’;
- ‘…Comprehensive Sickness Insurance is only now being imposed as a necessity’;
- ‘… since 2015, in order to gain citizenship, you MUST have permanent residency; despite the fact that you haven’t needed it since 1986 or so. They quietly reinstated these rules for EU citizens, but didn’t tell us’;
- ‘… people like me are being refused what they thought would be a fairly easy piece of paper to obtain, for failing to have something they didn’t know they were supposed to have, and which of course cannot be got retroactively’.
As George Szirtes says ‘Reading these testimonies arouses as much admiration as anger and sorrow’. We could do with more anger – a lot more.
Rating: five out of five stars: It’s harrowing, but you need to read it and think of practical ways of helping our fellow Europeans born in a different country.
Ed: Watch out for a review of “In Limbo Too” coming soon!