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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