This week I paid my taxes…and applied for permanent residence in the UK, where I’ve lived for almost twenty years. My husband is British, and so are our children, but with an EU passport, I didn’t need to worry about my legal status here until Brexit happened. Since the referendum in 2016, I’ve gone through the various stages of grief, including shock and denial, anger, depression and now finally acceptance. Brexit will happen, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Like so many of the 3 million EU citizens in the UK, I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself, and furious that despite my long residence here, I now have to apply for permission to continue living in the UK post-Brexit.
Oh, the indignity of it! But wait a minute, what’s the worst that could happen? My application is rejected, and I am forced to leave. In the relatively unlikely event that was to happen, it’s not like I’d be deported to a war zone or impoverished country with no human rights to speak of. As inconvenient as it would be, I’d still have a choice of 27 other EU countries to live in, and I am already daydreaming about a charming little cottage on the French Riviera or a villa in the mountains of Tenerife.
Daydreams aside, I don’t want to leave Britain, and I intend to do all that I can to be able to stay here, but what I wanted to say was that the process of applying to the Home Office made me look at the broader perspective. If I, a Swedish citizen, feel anxious about the possibility that the Home Office will reject my application, imagine the feelings of those who’ve fled horrendously difficult circumstances, including war, violence and oppression in the hope of finding a safe haven in Europe. Imagine living in fear of being deported to a country where you and your family’s lives are at risk.
‘EU citizens in Britain will be the next Windrush,’ some indignant Europhiles claim, but I don’t believe it’s a valid comparison. Windrush had a strong racist element; almost everyone deported was black. To compare the situation of EU citizens in Brexit Britain with Windrush overlooks the fact that in 2019, structural racism in much of the West still favours white people over people of colour. For all the talk of a spike in xenophobia since the referendum, the reality is that my black, British-born husband is still far more likely to be racially abused in his home country than I am.
Yes, Brexit sucks, but maybe, just maybe it will present a much-needed opportunity for Britain – a wonderfully diverse and in many ways quirky place – to engage in some healthy soul searching. Come to think of it, what country wouldn’t benefit from some honest navel gazing?