“Rights of EU nationals – That this House recognises the contribution that nationals from other countries in the EU have made to the UK; and calls on the Government to ensure that all nationals from other countries in the EU who have made the UK their home retain their current rights, including the rights to live and work in the UK, should the UK exit the EU.”
I want to tell you exactly how the rejection of this motion feels.
I have lived, worked, studied in the UK for the past 12 years. I am 34 years old. This is over a third of my life. This is not much compared to many other continental EU nationals I have met here. I have loved the UK, and England especially, for much longer than 12 years though. Having grown up in Normandy, and been taught English by UK citizens who had moved to France, England was a natural holiday destination. When I first recognized myself as an Anglophile, I was still in primary school.
I am not a system-abuser. In 12 years, I must have claimed unemployment for one week. I see a nurse twice a year and have not seen a doctor for ages. I have only been to a minor injuries unit once, and my other experience of a public hospital comes from working in one briefly. I am also not a great system-contributor: I am not rich, and will certainly never pay a great deal in taxes. I am not the best or the brightest of EU citizens in this country.
I like to see myself, however, as a good society-contributor. I am the kind of person who helps her elderly neighbours with garden work and chores, picks that bin off the middle of the road, recycles, gives however much time and money she can spare to local groups and charities, gives a hand to friends when they ask. I smile – always – I say hello, how are you, what about that weather, I take off my shoes when I walk into your home, never arrive empty-handed, teach your children some French if you want, get you a good deal on that chalet in February, wheel the boy in the chair across the road, help the old man up after he fell off his bike.
I have made a life here. A simple one, but a decent one too. Yet now not a day goes by when the thought of leaving does not occur. It is always one step forward, two steps backwards. I have told my British partner to start working on his French again. He got his books out, although he does not believe we “EU foreigners” will get kicked out. I fear that, for once, he might be the naive one. He was so sure people would make sense and vote Remain in the first place...
Now, tonight, those figures: 293 to 250. And I cry. For the first time, really. I managed to hold back my tears on the morning of June 24th. I have had several panic attacks since though. I have had nightmares. I have sleepless nights. I have had days on which I felt so sad I could barely get out of bed. I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep again, but who cares, because I go private for dental treatment. I wanted to buy us a house before the end of the year, but now that is on hold, like the rest of my life: financially, I am good, but am I even mortgageable? Do I want to take the risk? Do I really want to invest in a country which has been stealing my hopes and dreams for the past few months? Still, until now, for a foreigner, I had managed to remain very “Britishly” cool on the outside.
But tonight, I cry. Because this House has said that it does not recognise the contribution that I and others have made to the UK; this House has acknowledged that is uses me and others as mere pawns and will not guarantee our current rights, including the rights to live and work in the UK. This House has refused to regard us as human beings, treat us decently, or even show a sign of good faith to other EU governing bodies. To the 293: honestly, each one of you could come and throw a rock at me, it would not be any more painful. This is cowardice from you, and heartbreak for me and many others. You have treated us like we are subhuman. You are robbing us of our homes.
Maybe my partner is right and you will not deport us. Maybe you will just stick to making our lives so gloomy, stressful, miserable, and complicated, that we have no choice but to leave. Let me reassure you: you are well on your way there. You will lose doctors, nurses, IT professionals, PhD students and researchers, teachers, mothers, fathers, carers, decent citizens... and many more amazing people. Some data suggests you are already losing us.
Some excuses-for-human-beings will tell us to get a grip. I would love to see them deprived of their rights, and threatened to be forced out of their homes and away from their families and friends. Do not deny it: this is what we are talking about. Let no one say that I am going over the top with this. We have no guarantee whatsoever that we can stay, and have been stabbed in the chest by one of the highest political institutions in Britain today.
To the 250: thank you for your show of humanity, decency, and common sense. I wish it could have made a difference.
I, for one, will stand my ground as long as I can – but there are days, like today, when I really feel like I am on the edge of a cliff.
Virginie, from an otherwise lovely place in Cambridgeshire.