Ed: Annette Shaw, of Oxford For Europe, writes of the pain she felt as an EU national living in the UK, when the referendum result was announced. She is not alone.
This year it is 40 years since I came to the United Kingdom from Germany. Originally my plan was to spend one year in London as an au pair and return to Germany to work for Lufthansa as cabin crew. At the end of my time as an au pair I fell in love with a man from London and did not want to leave. I married him and have lived in the UK ever since with life’s ups and downs (I am now divorced).
I never saw any threat to my life in England until the day after the referendum in June 2016. Along with 3 million other EU citizens living in the UK, my future was decided by others and I did not have any say in this. This angered me and I became an activist campaigning for the UK to remain in the European Union. I went on all the big marches through London, and campaigned for the country to have another chance of a vote on our future relationship with the European Union. While we were campaigning on street stalls I was often accused of being a traitor and disrespecting democracy. I was also subjected to racist comments because of my slight German accent.
While busy campaigning I also set about applying to become a British citizen. This is a lengthy and expensive process. My reason for wanting to become a British citizen was to secure my status. I did not trust the Settled Status procedure because I believed it would turn into another ‘Windrush’ scandal, and it looks as if it is going that way. I also wanted to be able to vote, hold the government to account and make my own choices about my citizenship. I did not want to be a pawn in the government’s games or a bargaining chip in their negotiations on Great Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. I officially became a British citizen on 28 February 2019.
After obtaining the British citizenship I was excited about being able to vote for the first time. I also hoped that there would be a second referendum on the UK’s membership in the European Union and, this time, I would be entitled to vote! Sadly, everything turned out differently.
I cast my first vote as a British citizen, voting tactically as advised by the tactical voting group, in the General Election of December 2019. However, tactical voting failed, and the Conservative Party won and gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament. I was utterly devastated by the result knowing that we were now unable to stop the UK leaving the European Union. I decided to move to Scotland by the end of 2020. I did not want to continue living in England. Then came the pandemic, but that’s another story.
My reasons for wishing to live in Scotland are that Scotland’s push for independence was reinforced by the election result. Scotland is determined to re-join the European Union and I believe that they will become a member of the EU as an independent nation long before the rest of the United Kingdom (if, indeed, it is still united?) finds reasons to re-join.
The timescale for my move to Scotland was moved by the pandemic, however I still intend to move to Scotland for the reasons I outlined above.
Despite having British citizenship, I still do not feel completely safe. When I read articles about how people who became British citizens decades ago receive letters from the Home Office telling them to secure their immigration status, I feel very unsettled and scared. I follow politics, and reading about how dysfunctional the Home Office seems to be, makes me feel nervous. Indeed, so does hearing about how EU citizens travelling to the UK are being detained and deported.
My best friend loves coming to visit me in Oxford. When I told her recently during one of the Skype calls we have on Sunday afternoons about what has happened to EU citizens, she said she would not come to England any more. For the time being, our only contact is via Skype.
My best friend and I are very keen on hand crafting. My friend used to subscribe to British craft magazines and after 31 December 2020 their arrival to her home was often delayed and she decided not to renew her subscriptions. She will no longer be able to order craft materials online from Hobbycraft or other British online crafting sites because of the additional costs of the orders.
Besides shopping for craft materials online, my friend loved to go shopping at Hobbycraft and other craft shops in Oxfordshire when she visited me. These were great days out and we had lots of fun. This has now very sadly fallen by the wayside, and so had having breakfast together, sitting in my garden having dinner, drinking wine, laughing, and chatting, exploring the south of England. We can no longer send each other hand-made soaps and exchanging gifts is much more difficult than before because of the extra bureaucracy and expense which has become the norm since leaving the European Union.
Most importantly I will see less of my close friends and family.
This really breaks my heart.