Dear Mrs May, citizens’ rights first ?

This letter is in answer to Mrs May’s open letter of reassurance to EU citizens dated 19 October 2017.

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Dear Mrs May,

thank you for your letter ‘to EU citizens’.

Putting citizens’ rights first ?

Let me be clear: from the EU referendum itself to stripping South West MEP Mrs Girling of the party whip recently, it is plain to see your party comes first. Yes, we do realise this is politics in a first past the post system. But these negotiations are politics in a changed landscape, not in respect of your country deciding to Leave, but because we can now get Brexit updates directly from the EU channels, giving us both sides of the story.

Blaming the EU for everything is getting tougher isn’t ?

Which does beg the question: how many more voters will you lose if you keep playing this blaming the EU game ? I would not be so unfair as to blame you for treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. To my knowledge chips were never mentioned. Cards and bargaining capital however, were, not by you admittedly but by Brexit Ministers in your Cabinet.

Of course we are all chips or cards, nationals or immigrants, this is politics. 

What has been clear all along, for those who follow, is that EU citizens’ rights have been tied to the trade deal that the UK government wants to strike with the EU, despite you assuring your voters we are a priority, and the latter infuriating some of more right leaning voters, you can’t win can you ? What is also clear is that the words your government uses, and most tellingly the lack of an agreement on citizens’ rights, clarify that the 3 million EU foreigners in your country are not just an asset that contributes more to the British budget than we take out, a fact so seldom reported, but that we are clearly extra capital to try and extract yet more exceptions out of the EU.

Yes, well, you did already have the deal with the most exceptions in the EU.    

Sadly, I do not feel particularly reassured in your confidence that we are “within touching distance of agreement”. At least this is one point ardent British Brexiters and I can agree on.  On 22 October Mr Fox stated that there can be no agreement on divorce bill until there is agreement on trade. As the EU process does not allow for Mr Fox’s wishes to be granted, as he well knows, and as anybody who follows the EU from outside the box of some British Media understands, it confirms to me that this government is slowly but surely paving the way for No Deal. Whatever that may me mean for the UK.

What does No Deal mean for EU citizens ? 

It does seem that for some in your Cabinet and indeed your country, the UK should, by rights, get yet more special deals out of the EU now the ‘we are out’ card has been played. I cannot quite decide whether this card is an ace or a joker. Albion has indeed always been a shrewd negotiator, behind closed doors, so who knows how this European episode will pan out with the EU’s insistence and application of transparency ?

The most troubling proof of the state of play is when the Chancellor of the country I have lived in for 30 years openly calls the EU ‘the enemy’. Apologising or retracting is all well and good, thank you Sir, but it does prove the frame of mind for these negotiations, from this side of the Channel.

It was already plain for all to see, here and abroad, ‘enemy’ spelt out merely confirms it. 

I hope you are confident, as I realise some of your Leave voters are, that this is a constructive approach to negotiate a ‘good deal’ for this country. How this approach can lead to a good outcome for EU citizens stuck in a country that seems intent on sailing the High Seas on its own, is beyond my limited European understanding of negotiations.

Despite your letter of ‘reassurance’ nothing concrete is forthcoming on EU citizens’ rights. We are still unclear what ‘lawful’ actually means to your British lawmakers, and more importantly which immigration laws will govern our future.

This country adopted us as equals under the law, pre June 2016. No clarity has been reached in 16 months. So what will change precisely ?

The biggest obstacle is your bugbear:
the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

Now, let me be very clear. 

This is our concern:

without the CJEU (it is no longer called the ECJ, please keep up) we would find ourselves at the total mercy of any future British government, with no recourse, should we be treated unfairly. Fair enough, we are after all in the UK ? Well, this dramatically changes the contract under which we lawfully settled in the UK: as an equal citizen, the contract under which we paid into the British system. Some may say that there is no risk to be concerning our little heads about, that surely no British government would ever treat foreigners any worse than British nationals.

Maybe. Yet when a few companies have already started to advertise (against the current law) for British only citizens, as if the UK was already out of the EU, which it is not yet, is it far fetched to be concerned that they might get away with it at some point it in the future ?

In days when Europhobe bully boys seem to be pulling the reins of this country in a direction that was not splelt out on the ballot papers, who knows who will be in charge of the UK in 10 years time when I need to get a pension I paid into for 40 years, see a doctor as I get old, or need to change job ?

You may reassure me now these rights will be granted, thank you.

But will they remain when you are no longer in charge ? When in 2017 the President of the closest partner of this country is openly racist, mocks disabled people, does not treat women as he does men, is intent on reversing the little universal health care only just gained, who knows what could happen in 2020 or 2030 in the UK, if this country faces no choice but to get closer still to the USA ?

We do not wish to have more rights than our British friends and family. Neither do we want to have less. 

We have settled here under the terms of a contract you now propose to amend. The very fact that we were not allowed to have a say on this change of contract (though you did let us have a say on the specifically British matter of the future of Scotland) tells us already that we were not considered as equals before the EU referendum (though we were rather handy to get to keep a Union the government wanted).

You cannot now blame us for wanting to ensure our future is regulated under recognised international law when our rights are being amended. If a foreigner has a problem with a British institution, or the British government, how can we trust that a British Court of Law would not favour the British side ?

If we don’t like it we can leave ? Indeed.

But what about that contract, that money we have put into the British system (all my working life in my case, after the French government and my parents paid for my education) ? Will we face the same outcome as some of your ministers are proposing today: refusing to honour the costs of breaking a long agreed contract ?

Should we go whistle ? 

Since you now wish the EU to be more creative in their approach, I hope you can apply your creative mind to understand something that will affect your country more so than it will affect foreigners: ministers calling us bargaining capital, or calling the EU the enemy, or government leaving us in limbo for months, or threatening that we will lose the recourse of the CJEU is not,  in any way, conducive to keeping the very EU citizens you tell your people you wish to keep, or attract: the educated ones your country needs in many fields.

If I have a sought after degree, and I have the choice between any of 27 countries where I will be an equal, and one country where the law sees me as a foreigner with less rights than I do have in these other 27 countries, if I am a clever rational thinker with great skills, which should I choose ?

Ah yes, maybe the one that pays more. 

Well, you’ll sure have to compensate for the lack of sunshine. How much will it cost you to get these good migrants you so seek ?  Will you get the brightest and best, or the more desperate ?

I do not want to be an enemy, but if you corner me and threaten me with less rights, as you have effectively done for 16 months, I need to ensure my own country and its Union do protect me. The EU is the very enemy that allowed me to settle here lawfully 30 years ago, marry and have British children; the enemy this country is now fighting.

Let’s look to the future with history in mind: where does war posturing within Europe lead ?

The fear of war and the scars that it leaves for generations is the very reason the EU is so dear to so many Europeans, the very reason EU countries working and trading together was created after the second world war. Maybe the UK only wants trade.
But for many, Peace cannot be taken for granted.

Just look at the world today.

On a lighter note, may I take this opportunity to ask you to please never call me a citizen of nowhere, ever again. I am French and an EU citizen. It is quite possible to be both, in this day and age, as indeed many British Europeans who have bothered to vote for proactive and pro-European MEP’s of all parties (i.e. except UKIP, and dare I say some Conservatives) will agree.

Thank you for planning to make this new Settled Status easier.

Thank you for promising it will be no more than the cost of a British Passport; this will indeed be a vast improvement on the current situation. Let us hope that the Home Office’s proven track record of inefficiency, and recognised hostile environment that deliberately makes it difficult for non-EU foreigners to settle in the UK does, indeed, improve when another 3.3 million people need to be processed in a country that has never registered EU foreigners in a central or regional database, unlike most other EU countries.

Could you please make it clear to your electorate that it is not ‘the EU’s fault’ that your country chose to ignore the EU rules set up to ease Western European countries accessing the Union, or those enabling an EU country to send an EU citizen back home if after 3 months they have not found a job; or that a Lithuanian family keeps getting British taxpayers’ money into their British bank account and still access it when they have gone back home (as per the comment on your Facebook thread below your letter).

These issues are due to the British system, the problems were created because of British interpretation of EU directives.
Yet the EU gets it in the neck. 

As for the Home Office’s allowed 10% margin for error , it does mean at least 330,000 EU citizens could face yet more mistakes (like deportation letters as have been received in the last year), uncertainty and stress. Stress ? Oh well, we are only foreigners after all, so as some say, if we don’t like it we can go back where we come from. True, though it is worth reminding those in your electorate who so despise paying the EU anything, that this will mean much higher costs to the taxpayer in the UK. And this is a fairly straightforward issue that a computer system and a few new staff should eventually sort out.

Other issues however are proving far more of a costly headache aren’t they?  

So much for saving money by sailing the High Seas,
this is just the first tip of the first iceberg. 

Proposing to register 3.5 million people with your government’s track record for computer systems cannot fill me with much hope that it will be either smooth for us or cheap for the taxpayers (that is us too by the way, so we’ll pay twice for this new privilege). That this government can get a better system for foreigners in two years than it has provided for its own British Universal Credit claimants in five is pretty doubtful. I am glad to see Mrs Rudd acknowledges this concern. My skepticism remains.

So let me be very clear. 

As far as EU citizens’ “Settled Status” is concerned, many EU citizens join me in not being reassured in the slightest. As for Brexit itself, well, that’s not just foreign EU citizens that need reassurance is it, it’s many British ones too.
As you well know.
I would not want your job for all the cheese in France, and I do love cheese, even British.

 

Salutations distinguées.

Nathalie Roberts
French EU Citizen
United Kingdom resident

23 October 2017

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Hunting pink in my village

Never mind the rain, when the local hunt meet in the village all gather and life goes on.

Every year in January the local hunt meets in The Square in my village. Not that it is a square Square as in a French village. It’s more of a crossroads surrounded by houses, cars going past as if it is quite normal to meet horses, which it is round’ere. Only generally they’re not in hunt attire, with hounds, drink in hand, sandwiches from the local pub handed around to all who have gathered.

What always catches my eye is those coats that stand out in a sea of browns and blacks. They look rather red to me (and you I imagine), proper scarlet red, but it’s not called red, it’s hunting pink. Maybe because of a tailor called Pink, though nobody knows for sure. If Tailor Pink existed he seems to have left no address, no date of birth or death, nothing apart from a very un-British way of calling a colour by a name that has nothing to do with the real thing. Maybe.

Today, the weather certainly was very British, country folks met in The Square smiling, laughing forgetting they were wet. It’s only water. My friend and neighbour Maddie took pity on me and sheltered me from the worst shower, gave me a cup of hot tea, and let me take a few pictures from her special view point overlooking The Square. All in all, a great morning in my new village in the middle of the West Dorset countryside.

Welcome to village life.

 

Did Tailor Pink exist?

 

National Tree Week

In honour of National Tree Week

Saturday 28th November – Sunday 6th December – 

” One sheep, two birds ” 

OneSheep,TwoBirds

2015 is the 40th anniversary of National Tree Week, when millions of trees get planted. You can join a local tree planting ceremony or just plant a tree in your back garden!

http://www.treecouncil.org.uk/Take-Part/national-tree-week

 

 

Chideock’s catholic church

A visit to Chideock Catholic Church in West Dorset including photographs (copyright natamagat.co.uk)

I came across Chideock’s catholic church by chance some years back.

A little path leads to a door flanked by two arches, a simple entrance not unlike a romanesque church that reminded me of a 13th century chapel you might find in the South of France.

As you walk on, emerging from under a canopy of leaves from the tall trees either side of the path, color hits you. There is Mary, her eyes raised to the sky above, as many a Catholic artwork. But this white statue above the door is against a painted backdrop of blue sky and golden stars and around her in a large roundel, eight painted medallions make a huge statement “This is a church like no other’.

It is a Catholic Church so you can expect Jesus on the cross and many a statue of Mary.  Built in the 19th century, you won’t be surprised to find all sorts of artistic styles. That, and its interesting history, is what makes Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius of Loyola unique.

chideock catholic church

Raised in France where Catholicism is the main religion, it was fascinating to not only discover an extraordinary building but also its history, part of a bigger story of persecution. Hidden from the road by greenery, it feels like a secret venue but its apparent initial simplicity is lit by sparks of eccentricity and eclectic international artwork.

chideock catholic church

I’ve got a thing about churches, about what used to be, in most places, the centre of the community. Art and architecture draw me in, the people who built it make me want to stop, look around and listen. Raised by a Catholic family, I still light a candle and have a little thought for the ones I dearly miss.

chideock catholic church

Of course a Catholic church in England is not the centre of the village, it is the centre of a community that used to have to hide and Chideock is no exception. Thomas Weld of Lulworth bought Chideock estate in 1802 for his son Humphrey at a time when discretion was still called for despite the Reformation.

When the manor was built in 1805, the existing barn’s loft became a tiny chapel, it can still be visited today (by appointment). Its paintings, traveling altar and minute size tell a story of hiding. The walls of what is now the priest’s sacristy below the loft are totally decorated with murals and a 1929 painting by Fra Newbury of the Chideock Martyrs is inspired by portraits of the martyrs that can still be found around the church’s nave, below the upper windows.

chideock catholic church

 

What is unique about Chideock is that there was no architect involved. Charles Weld, Humphrey’s son, designed it and decorated most of it himself, with some help from his family.

Look closely and you’ll find a painting in an arch that was never finished, an almost ghost like figure; or Baroque inspired, slightly over the top, short white  twisty marble columns encrusted with shiny stones and mosaics. You may think Corinthian when you observe the tall columns that hold the arches of the nave but look closer and its capitals (the sculptures at the top of the columns) are all different and were carved by Charles himself.

chideock catholic church

Several of the sculptures that catch your attention when you walk around were gathered during his travels. The German inscription on the painted Pieta at the back of the building is a giveaway to its origins and the white marble statues of Mary and St Joseph flanking the sanctuary at the front of the building are unsurprisingly Italian.

chideock catholic church

One of the most eye catching features is the gilded statue of Mary above the altar, almost floating towards heaven. Positioned under a skylight (and with a bit of help from human lighting too) she may be the first thing you see when you enter the church. Then again, we’re all different, there are so many details, inscriptions and little treasures to be found that you may see the high painted ceiling (barrel vault) or the imperfections in the treaded floor that leads you to the altar.

You’ll have to look around to find the baptismal font and its clever cover (check the wooden panelling too as it is from Westminster Abbey no less).

chideock catholic church font

When I was commissioned to take photographs of the church I was lucky to be given a guided tour for my second visit. I won’t show you all the pictures although I took dozens, it would spoil the visit and the pleasure of discovering something you’ve never seen before. Look out for when they have open days to see the whole building.

In the church itself, there is plenty to see. You’ll find statues and paintings in alcoves, details in droves. Busy behind my lens capturing a mother in turn holding her baby or her grown son on her lap, I felt like time was stopping for a while, silence around me, away from our busy world, our religious differences.

chideock catholic church

Religious buildings have come to represent our differences in the world, something that pains many of us, yet when I visited this somewhat forgotten labour of love and faith, built by an English aristocrat for his community of believers, I felt a weird and unexpected sense of peace. It was (to my surprise) a descendant of Charles who gave me a tour of the church; her family still owns St Mary (although in trust). Private ownership of churches is one of the many things I learnt in Chideock.

chideock catholic church

Something I had never come across before either is a gallery overlooking the sanctuary for the Weld family to attend mass directly from the manor without being seen from the ground level. Although the family no longer owns Chideock manor, this is an interesting witness to a not so distant past. I must admit I found this feature rather strange, if fascinating, more to do with my French ancestry, of course, than my Catholic upbringing.

It made me think of history at large, social classes, lasting separations or forgotten divides. But it also reminded me that although churches are often a story of wealth enabling a building where beliefs can be shared and celebrated to exist, faith and even more so community involvement is now what is preserving the buildings for our future generations. As I visited, the cupola was about to be rebuilt and restored to how it used to be, thanks to funds raised locally over several years.

Craftsmanship prevails, wherever the funds come from, whoever the craftsmen are. Here, everybody can come and visit, light a candle, say a prayer or simply have a look around. I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can discover at Chideock catholic church. Whilst I was visiting, three men walked in and went straight to the little cloister adjacent to the church, now a local museum. In the silence of the church, it was easy to overhear their conversation.

Here was a father and his adult sons, looking at photographs of a person the older man knew many years ago when he lived in the area. The caretaker was called over to help. Now, was she the butcher’s daughter, or was she the one married to the builder? I left them to their conversation, the father with his revived memories, his sons, the lady of the church and the caretaker of St Mary.

chideock catholic church

We all walked back out at the same time a little while later, drizzle welcoming us to the English countryside, a smile on our faces.

I looked back at Mary in her roundel above the entrance.
Is that the sun shining behind her?