In Limbo – How Brexit is Failing Five Million Europeans

In June 2016 the UK, my adopted home country, decided to leave the European Union. I woke up in the morning and saw my world turned upside down. Brexit has had an impact comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall, only this time a wall went up, not down.  And I, together with 3,6 million Europeans living in the UK, felt trapped on the wrong side of it. The European ideals were not welcome in Britain any more – and with it the many European citizens who had embraced life here.

The narrow referendum outcome split the UK down the middle and unleashed a venom that took me by surprise. The UK tabloid hatred of foreigners quickly seeped into the language of politicians anxious to win votes, with talk of companies having to list foreign workers, “citizens of nowhere” who would be tolerated until Britain could replace them with a native workforce.

My initial anger turned into activism, and together with five other Europeans, I founded the3million, a grassroots organization that fights for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. What started as a close-knit group of volunteers worried about EU citizens’ rights has now become the most powerful movement of EU citizens in the UK. We have influenced negotiations both in Brussels and London and pushed the issue of citizens to the top of the Brexit agenda.

IN THE PHOTO:  Maike and the3million banner at the People’s Vote March. The People’s Vote march gathered more than 700,000 people asking for a vote on the final Brexit deal. PHOTO CREDIT: the3million

The past two years have seen the UK government providing assurances that EU citizens will be able to stay but these assurances have always come before a major milestone in the negotiations and never go into specifics. Platitudes are crushing us and the initial guarantee, which was underpinning the talks, “you can keep on living as if nothing has happened” – has proven a lie.

Higher political interests on both the EU and UK side have taken over. They risk making EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the UK citizens of nowhere.

What has been agreed on citizens’ rights so far falls short of what was promised. Our sister organization, British in Europe, is still fighting for onward freedom of movement, EU citizens living in the UK want a lifelong right to return and lasting legal protection for their and their children’s rights.

Besides, EU citizens will have to apply and pay for the right to stay in their own home, singled out through a digital ID and, in light of the recent Windrush scandal, never sure a future government might not remove this right.

It is also doubtful that all 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK will be aware of the need to apply for the new status, with disastrous consequences: those failing to apply successfully will be considered illegal immigrants, denied bank accounts, access to healthcare, housing and work.

IN THE PHOTO:  Maike Bohn with her family marching in London.  PHOTO CREDIT: the3million

More worryingly, it feels increasingly doubtful that the draft Withdrawal Agreement will even be signed – the specter of no deal is looming large.

An estimated 700.000 people marched for another say on Brexit in London last Saturday – but again, EU citizens would not have a vote in another referendum on any final deal. And while there is increasing debate on the social and economic nightmare scenario of a no deal Brexit, the specific challenges for EU citizens have received little attention. The UK government has repeatedly refused to clarify what this would mean for EU citizens in the UK, and the EU has no adequate contingency plans to protect all five million – EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe.

The government has kept us guessing for two years. It has kept employers and landlords guessing too, who are wondering whether EU citizens are too risky to employ or house. Lives are in limbo, and people have lost faith in the government after many U-turns by politicians who promised our lives wouldn’t be affected by the referendum outcome.

That’s why the3million and British in Europe are urging the UK and the EU to honor and implement what has already been agreed on citizens’ rights in March 2018. They will form a human chain on 5 November between the UK Parliament and Downing Street to remind the UK government of its duty of care to five million people.  – More info about this event here.

I believe more than ever that nationalism has no future in Europe and the turmoil in Britain is a testament to this.

I feel cautiously optimistic that the current grave crisis is the beginning of a new European movement in Britain, but on a personal level, I wonder whether I will ever feel at home again in this country in the way I used to.

IN THE PHOTO:  Maike Bohn founding member of the3million meeting with the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Oxford, UK.  PHOTO CREDIT: the3million
IN THE  COVER  PHOTO:  Victoria Tower Gardens, London, UK. EU citizens living and working in the UK hold up high letters spelling out “This Is Our Home.” the3million is working to make sure the rights of EU citizens are still protected after Brexit. PHOTO CREDIT: the3million




About the Author /

Maike Bohn is a higher education specialist and one of the Founding Members of the3million. the3million is a grassroots movement formed after the Brexit referendum to protect the lives and the rights of EU citizens who made the UK their home. It takes its name from the estimated number of EU citizens who moved from another EU country and have established their life in the UK.

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