How Brexit changed my relationship with the UK

Author: Else Kvist


It didn’t come completely out of the blue when Britain decided to call it a day and demanded a divorce.

Even if the vote to leave the EU came as an overnight shock to many.

Britain had always been a reluctant partner - suspicious of Europe after ‘standing alone’ in the Second World War.

And still fantasizing about ruling the waves, while trying to come to terms with the fall of its empire on which the sun never set.

The EU might have been a marriage made in heaven.

But Britain failed to take full advantage of its special relationships to become the ideal relationship broker between the EU, the US, and the rest of the world.

And the EU turned a blind eye to the warning signs and failed to change its ways in time.

Many politicians, and certain parts of the media, also failed to focus on the positives, instead playing the blame game.

Of course, I felt both sad and disappointed the morning after the vote.

As someone committed to the partnership, despite its flaws, and appreciating the peace and prosperity that has flown from warring old nations ‘tying the knot’ and forming a union in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was a question of give and take.

And as someone who had been able to travel freely from my native Denmark, and exercise my right to live, work and study in the UK.

Still, like other EU citizens, without British citizenship, who have made the UK our home, I was denied a say in the matter.

Yet the real let down, - a feeling I know is shared by many EU citizens living in the UK - could so easily have been avoided.

Maybe I was naive, but I was waiting for that magical moment when the Prime Minister would step outside Downing Street and declare not just that the British people wanted us to stay, but that EU citizens already living in the UK would be granted an automatic right to stay.

After all, Britain had willingly entered into the union and been the one, who had decided to leave.

Hence I expected nothing less than a bit of dignity from a nation renowned for its politeness and good manners.

Instead we became bargaining chips in the divorce negotiations with the EU and were caught up in the infighting and shouting match in the UK.

Branded ‘citizens of nowhere’ and ‘queue jumpers’ by the Prime Minister, we were made to apply to stay in the country we had already made our home.

Even though I would easily qualify for permanent residency, or settled status, as it is now called, it just feels very odd having to apply to stay after 27 years of living here.

I was shocked to discover that if a hard Brexit goes ahead, and I haven’t applied for settled status yet, then I would have no legal protection guaranteeing my right to stay here.

 Even after all this time and with a British husband and dual nationality kid.

I never expected to be kicked out, and lawyers tell me human rights laws would come into play, if such a case was to be tested in the courts. But I got the message, that we were now second class citizens. And it hurts.

Maybe I felt a bit like Jerry Hall, when her marriage to Mick Jagger was declared invalid and void.

And there has been no shortage of cases of Europeans who have been here for decades, many of whom have married a Brit and raised their children here, now suddenly required to apply to stay in their home country.

Such as that of an 87-year-old grandmother, named Tove MacDonald, up in Scotland, who came over from Denmark in the 1960s after meeting a Scottish policeman.

No wonder she felt sad and confused by it all.

It really is a source of shame that the British government did not at least pass a law immediately after the Brexit vote guaranteeing our right to stay.

But there are those who dismiss the anxieties and anger caused as unfounded.

“What’s the problem, if you want to belong to the ‘club’ you just apply for British citizenship”, I was told by a Brexiteer - a man married to a woman whose parents came here as immigrants, I may add.

I tried to explain to no avail that until 2015 Denmark did not allow dual citizenship and that I didn’t want to give up my Danish citizenship, as the EU meant I didn’t have to in order to live here. Since then, the cost of around £1,600 means I have simply put it off.

“That is the price you have to pay for belonging to the greatest nation on earth”, I was told by the same man and in whose eyes, I will probably never fully belong anyway.

Even among Danes living in the UK I have seen heated debates on social media between those who feel upset by Brexit and bitter about having to apply to stay, and those who actually agree with Brexit and dismiss the application as a mere formality.

And there is the uncertainty to what extent Brexit was about immigration, and whether the British people meant us, or other groups of immigrants. But at the end of the day, we are all in this together. And I have felt solidarity among other Europeans and Brits alike.

It is not that I don’t believe in a proper register for everybody and within the first few years of living here maybe some sort of application process would have made sense.

But it’s not our fault that the UK has failed to register people properly on arrival, like many EU states do, and even turned a blind eye to some illegal immigration, deemed beneficial to the economy by some.

And identity cards for all citizens remain unpopular in the UK.

After 27 years with the same bank account and a national insurance number, how hard can it be to find me in the system?

I think I was just looking for some acknowledgment rather than having to prove myself after all this time.

Then finally came the chance for me to have my say in the European Parliament elections. Only to discover that my name had been crossed out on the list of names inside my local polling station.

An electoral officer was quick to inform me that I belonged to the wrong category of citizens, as he pointed to a notice on his table outlining different categories – each reduced to a letter indicating which type you come under.

If I needed another wake-up call, then here it was.

On my social media news feed, I had seen plenty reminders of registering to vote.

So just in case, I had registered, only to receive a letter from my council stating that I was already on the electoral register, and that I didn’t need to do anything else.

But it turns out I should have filled in an additional form to declare that I did not intend to vote in my country of origin.

As someone who follows the news and Brexit developments on a daily basis, I couldn’t quite believe this had slipped through my daily news scan and passed me by.

Some EU citizens were even told to go and vote in their home country.

I haven’t voted in Denmark since 1992 – ironically when a referendum was held on the Maastricht Treaty - as you normally lose your right to vote in national elections in Denmark once you move abroad.

Where was the campaign by the British government informing EU citizens that they were required to fill in this additional form?

So there I was, after 27 years in the UK - I joined the estimated one million other EU citizens to have been denied a vote in the recent European Parliament elections.

The estimated figure arrived at following research by this very campaign group, the New Europeans.

I even became the subject of a story in the local newspaper I used to work for:

As EU citizens, especially those of us from western Europe, we have of course been privileged.

Maybe the Brexit vote has given us a taste of much greater challenges faced by other immigrants every day around the world.

But in the end, I think Brexit has both questioned and ironically helped me confirm my identity and sense of belonging.

Admittedly, I have, like many people who move abroad, or from the countryside to the city, felt torn between the two countries for years. Sometimes I still do.

Like many immigrants I long for the parts of my country of birth and culture that I miss.

But then suddenly find myself feeling terribly British when I go back to Denmark. As both the country and I have changed.

I used to hold London up as an example of how multi-culturalism could work, when I felt somewhat alienated by the hard tone of the immigration/integration debate back in Denmark.

I even teamed up with a camera man to produce a film, which followed a group of Danes in the UK, as they gathered to celebrate annual Danish traditions and take their children to Danish classes. The idea was to hold up a mirror to Danes living abroad – just to show that we are not that different after all.

Then the Brexit vote happened halfway through filming and we all had to evaluate whether Britain was really the tolerant and open country we thought it was. 

I think I have gradually come to realise that whilst Denmark will always have a special place in my heart, Britain is now my home for better and worse.

In the same way that there is nothing to stop people from feeling British and European at the same time.

It seems much of the white working class had come to feel that being English had become a dirty word - and blamed the liberal left or multiculturalism.

Much like many cosmopolitans were branded citizens of nowhere, as if we do not care for our roots or new found communities.

I hope Britain will rediscover its strength as a multi-cultural society and discover that there is more that unite us than divide us.

It is hard to see how the rich elite, who helped bankroll Brexit, really have the interests of the common man at heart. How deregulation and the lowering of taxes, which they seem to propagate, will bring a greater share in opportunities and prosperity for all.

It will be ironic however, if the Brexit vote spells the end of the first-past-the-post electoral system and ends up pushing Britain towards compromise, thereby becoming more like other European countries.

Who knows, the EU may even get a second chance. Maybe next time we try to renew the marriage vows the answer could even be yes!

 


Else Kvist

About the Author

Else Kvist

Else is freelance journalist, who works across print, web, and video to tell national and international stories. 

She also works as a researcher on film projects and for Danish TV, when they broadcast from the UK. 

After 27 years in the UK, Else is able to draw on both her experience of working and living in the UK, and her Danish background in her work.

She had seven years of experience on two local newspapers, the award-winning East London Advertiser and its sister paper the Newham Recorder, before going freelance. 
 

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Else Kvist

About the Author

Else Kvist

Else is freelance journalist, who works across print, web, and video to tell national and international stories. 

She also works as a researcher on film projects and for Danish TV, when they broadcast from the UK. 

After 27 years in the UK, Else is able to draw on both her experience of working and living in the UK, and her Danish background in her work.

She had seven years of experience on two local newspapers, the award-winning East London Advertiser and its sister paper the Newham Recorder, before going freelance. 
 

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