Brexit as an EU citizen: Setting the Record Straight | Nelly Huszcza

Nobody likes to be treated as a bargaining chip. However, many EU citizens felt just that way during what it seemed to be interminable Brexit negotiations.

I moved to the UK in October 2016, a few months after the British people chose to be once again a sovereign nation. A program between the British council and the Institut Français offered me an opportunity as a teaching assistant in a British school. After the end of my contract, I quickly found other jobs in my speciality area, the book industry.

Living in London, I’ve been surrounded by other EU citizens like me. They all shared the same worries and complaints. The simple word Brexit was sending shivers down their spine and causing endless eye rolls, as well as a few accusations of racism here and there. Classic.

Me? Well, I genuinely struggled to worry at all. From the get go, it seemed very nonsensical to me to imagine that once Brexit would be done and dusted, all my European friends and I would be rounded up on a ferry and sent straight back across the Channel. This sounded, in my opinion, very un-British.

Yet talking to my friends it seemed to be a very plausible scenario for many of them. How come?

Well, while Brexit negotiators were trying hard to reassure us that our rights and opportunities would be guaranteed, remainers launched a campaign of intense victimisation and fear mongering. For the next three years, the relative uncertainty of our future would be used as a political tool to override the will of the British people.

One only needs to take a look at the plethora of articles published in the Guardian to realise this.

From heartfelt testimonies of EU citizens claiming they feel ‘betrayed’ to experts talking about possible deportations after Brexit, comparing it even to the Windrush scandal, my left-wing European friends had all reasons to be scared. That’s what they’ve been told to feel, scared.

London elites were also very quick to talk about the disastrous consequences on our way of life, if EU citizens were to leave Britain. Who hasn’t heard the very condescending “But who is going to prepare my coffee at Prêt à manger?”

This all comes down to a culture of entitlement. My generation, Millennials and Gen Z, have grown up without a strong feeling of national identity, of belonging. We were born here, but we could have been born elsewhere. The European project, by condemning borders and patriotism, was detrimental in reinforcing that sentiment.

We were all one big family: Britain, France, Germany, Spain, all of these are kind of the same thing, really. Therefore when we decide to pack our things and move elsewhere, it seems very natural to us that we would be treated just like the people who were born here and whose ancestors have been here for generations.

We feel entitled to the same rights, opportunities, and quality of life. This has set unrealistic expectations in a lot of people’s minds. Brexit did come as a shock for many, as it was a reminder that national sentiment does matter, and that people do want to feel like they have control over their country’s destiny.

While for some Europeans this was felt as the ultimate proof of British xenophobia, for people like me, it was a reminder of how grateful I should be for being in this country.

This all comes down to perspective, I guess.

Here we are now, over three years after the vote, Brexit is finally happening. Since March 2019, the Home office has put in place the renowned EU settlement scheme.  EU citizens living in the UK need to apply to this scheme before June 2021 in order to be granted either pre-settled status or settled status and therefore be allowed to remain in Britain.

I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the process, and so were my friends who were told Brexit meant the end of it all. The application itself took around 10 minutes, and got concluded after 2 weeks.

The numbers don’t lie: As of February 2020, the Home Office has received over 3.3 millions applications. The total number of applications that have been concluded is almost 3 million. Of these, 58% were granted settled status and 41% were granted pre-settled status.

Most complicated cases have been delayed or rejected because of lack of paperwork, which is something bound to happen in any administrative endeavour.

As I have been living in this country for less than 5 years, I’ve been granted pre-settled status, which allows me to stay 5 more years with the same rights as before the Brexit vote. In less than 2 years I’ll be able to get either permanent residency (settled status) or apply for citizenship.

As somebody who cares about Britain and wants to participate actively in its future I will ultimately ask for citizenship.  It’s always puzzling to me to meet people who have been living in Britain for 10, 15, 20 years and never have even considered applying for citizenship; yet we do hear them complain about the unfairness of the Leave vote. Had they become British citizens, they could have stopped the consequences of Brexit they deplore today.

There is no doubt that hard-working Europeans are more than welcome to stay in the UK. As usual, it all comes down to this: You either choose to assimilate, or you don’t. You either choose to feel British, or you don’t. No Brexiteer has ever made feel like I was less than because I’m an immigrant. EU citizens need to be grateful the opportunities that have been given to them in this country, and appreciate how this government has made this transition so easy for us.

Photo by Daniel Hamersky on Flickr.

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