The 24th of June was my husband’s 40th birthday, but it will be more remembered as the day my life changed due to the Brexit vote.
I am German and have lived in the UK since 2003. I am married to a British Citizen, have a child, work as a freelancer, pay my taxes, I am active in my local community. I consider myself as fully integrated in this society. My English is often better these days than my German, the fate of many like me. Phone calls with German friends and family often feature me groping for words out of thin air “How do we say this again…”
I live my life in English, but for how much longer, no one knows.
When I moved to the UK in 2003, I did that without thinking twice about it. I had just turned 30, been offered a great job in Birmingham and so I went for it. After all, as a European, it is my right to live and work in any of the EU member states. My English was decent; my skills were wanted. Never for one moment, did I consider that this was a potentially risky thing to do. I simply did not think that the UK would leave the Union and that my position in this country would one day have a giant question mark attached to it.
I did not think about long-term consequences of marrying a British citizen, having a child that would be British from birth, while I am still German if Britain ever left the EU. Or what it would mean buying a house and having a mortgage in a country that might leave the EU one day. At times, I wonder if I have just been naïve, but in reality, I know that no one could have predicted this. Yet, since the 24th of June, I feel like a child caught up in a messy divorce. Well, I am caught up in a messy divorce, the divorce of the UK with the EU.
Like many of my European friends living in the UK, we feel that our lives have been suspended. How can we plan for the future? Is it too risky to buy a new house right now? Well yes, it is. Looking at secondary schools for my Year 5 daughter feels at times a bit silly, because I have no idea what will happen to me and by extension to us as a family. Will we be able to live in the UK? Under what conditions? What hoops will we have to jump through? Will they require me to do a medical? A brain check? Make me walk a straight line? Am I the right kind of foreigner? With the right kind of job? Is my husband’s job deemed good enough to support me? What if he loses his job? What if he gets ill or – God forbid – dies?
The rhetoric of politicians scares me. I admit that speeches made by Theresa May, Amber Rudd and Liam Foxx have done nothing to make me feel better about the situation. To them, I am a nuisance. I cost them votes, because British elections – so it seems – are now won over who deals most efficiently with that “foreigner question”. And there is no doubt that I am a foreigner. My English as good as it is, will always sport an accent. Makes me identifiable that I am not from “around here”.
My friends assure me that all will be well in the end. “And if not, we hide you in the cellar.” And then we laugh, but inside I feel like crying because I cannot believe that we are actually saying stuff like this. In my country, we hid people in cellars during the time of the Third Reich. I am laughing with them, but really, I want to curl up somewhere and just forget about it for a while.
I cannot forget though. I try to find answers, but no one has them. The politicians, who could give assurance, give more speeches. And every day, I feel more like I am a pawn in a game for which everyone seems to have a different understanding of the rules. Nothing is fact. Everything is fiction.
I am sharing articles on social media that are all just speculation. I know that, but it makes me feel better for a second or two. Some speak of hope; others make me despair. The rhetoric is clearly fascist and no one seems to care. Well some do, but no one listens to them.
Other friends say: “Just apply for British citizenship.” As if it is that easy, like something you pick up during your weekly shop. Milk, bread and some British citizenship. I never considered myself to be attached to my German citizenship, but suddenly I am. In the event of a hard Brexit and me having a dual nationality, there is a risk that I might have to choose between being German or being British. Again no one can give any guarantees, this might not happen, this might just be one of those things that will be sorted considering how many of us this will actually affect. But no one knows for certain. I feel, I cannot be naïve about this, not this time. I was naïve when I moved to the UK, I learnt my lesson. Naturally, there is also the fact that even if I did apply to become a British citizen, there are no guarantees, they would actually have me. They would take my money (and it is a lot of money), but they may just turn around and say: No thank you, Mrs Martin, we don’t actually think you are a good fit, but we gladly keep your grand for the pleasure of looking at your application. Now, sod off.
This morning, I felt paralysed, when I considered that this current state of limbo might well continue for 3 years. 3 years of enduring political rhetoric. 3 years of not knowing what will happen. When I said to an EU friend that we are facing three years of uncertainty, she said: Mel, you are such an optimist.
I have no idea where to go instead though, because the UK is now my home. Ever since I read Enid Blyton as a little kid, I wanted to live in the UK. I have not made my home here by accident, but by design. My husband does not speak German or rather, he does speak it a bit but not well enough to work in Germany. So only an English speaking country would do, but immigration is a problem everywhere, who would have us? The answer is simple: No one. I looked into emigrating to Canada or New Zealand, but I admit that I am like someone who has just been hurt in a relationship. I cannot consider another relationship; I need to heel first. And I don’t want to find that we are in a similar situation a few years down the line.
Yet, I have days, where it feels like a dangerous move to stay put. Only time will tell.