While the British people wait for Prime Minister Theresa May to spell out exactly what the future holds for them once Britain’s economy is outside the single market and customs union, she has found time to write an open letter to the citizens of the European citizens living and working among us.
To be fair, her letter to European citizens who work, pay taxes and make massive contributions to the British economy, society and culture is warm enough in tone. If only during her six years as Home Secretary when she described fellow Europeans as “immigrants arriving in unsustainable numbers” she had shown similar warmth, perhaps the anti-immigrant hates that won the referendum would have been limited to UKIP and the BNP.
She is now initiating a massive project of requiring three million people or more people to submit themselves to one of the most incompetent and often heartless bureaucracies in Britain – namely, the jobsworths of the Home Office. Moreover, our fellow Europeans will have to pay for the pleasure and all of us taxpayers will have to fork out to pay the costs of this new bureaucratic moloch.
As the National Union of Journalists, which lists many European citizens as members and has many members working across the Channel, notes: “Millions are still in limbo.”
The Government claims that those seeking settled status in the UK will “not have their applications refused on minor technicalities”. Spot the weasel word “minor”. That allows any bureaucrat to reject anyone and send an applicant into a costly drawn-out appeal process.
Already there is a “Brexodus” as EU citizens working here are not sure about their future status. Many of them who have tried to get British nationality or permanent resident status have been refused when they make one small slip in filling in the forms or did not keep every EasyJet or Ryanair ticket when they left Britain for a holiday or to return home to see family.
Others are leaving because of the rise of anti-European remarks and slights or because obtaining mortgages or other loans has become more difficult as banks and finance houses cannot be sure of future status.
The Brexit devaluation has meant that being paid in pound sterling is less interesting when repatriated into local currencies or euros. In addition, the rest of Europe is on an economic roll while British pay rates are falling behind inflation.
Most sectors from Grimsby fishing bosses to hospitals or catering and construction are complaining that they do not have enough labour as more and more EU citizens leave a Britain now perceived, fairly or not, as hostile to Europe and EU citizens.
In her open letter, the PM did not explain to younger Britons that she wants to remove their automatic right to live, love, work, set up a business and retire elsewhere in Europe. To be sure, existing EU and British citizens in Europe are not going to be deported. But what of their children who will lose the rights Theresa May has enjoyed since she was at school to work and travel freely in the European community of nations she says we should turn our backs on?
There is one exception. Every citizen of Northern Ireland is also a citizen of the Republic of Ireland so can continue to exercise EU freedom of movement and non-discrimination rights after Brexit. The ultra-Protestant, homophobic Democratic Unionist Party MPs are loud in insisting on the need for an amputation from Europe and loud in attacking Dublin. Yet they and their children and electors will enjoy the rights that they are voting to take away from the rest of us.
Thus, the paradox of Brexit. The hardline sectarian right-wingers in the DUP have made sure their voters are protected while insisting that British citizens in England, Scotland and Wales in the future will lose existing rights to live, love, work and retire in Europe.
Denis MacShane is a former Labour MP, minister of Europe and author of Brexit, No Exit. Why (in the End) Britain Won’t Leave Europe published by IB Tauris