Last Sunday, 3 March 2019, I was invited to give a speech at the Pulse of Europe event in High Wycombe. It was a truly moving and inspiring moment for me to be with one of the many teams of wonderful Remainers who, all over the UK, have been fighting tirelessly against hate and fake news, by trying to engage with people on the streets, every week-end no matter the weather — like my local team, the amazing Bath for Europe.
The weather on Sunday was very wet and quite windy, but the atmosphere was incredibly warm and supportive. Unforgettably so. And thanks to it I feel I have made genuine friends.
We felt so much that we are all ONE in this horrible mess. The divisive and damaging Brexit has unwittingly created the strongest of European families in our community: EU27 citizens here, Brits in the EU and Remainers in the UK, all for one and one for all!
So, at just over three weeks from Brexit day, here is my speech:
“ Hello everybody!
I am Véronique Martin, I am French, a UK resident for 32 years and a European. I am also the co-editor of the book In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK and the associate director of the In Limbo Project. I feel really touched to be invited today by my dear friends from High Wycombe to speak at this wonderful Pulse of Europe event.
You here represent the beautifully open and tolerant Britain, EU27 citizens like me fell in love with so passionately that we made it our home. For the past two and half years we have all fought together to reclaim that Britain. It’s been really tough and it still is.
The month of March marks the depth of winter, just before Spring starts at last. It may well also mark this year our very last month as an EU country. Many of us I think are feeling in the depth of the Brexit Winter, in a dark night of the soul, and today I will talk to you about the harsh human price of Brexit.
My personal relationship with the UK until the Brexit Referendum has been one of love, of devotion even. I arrived in Britain, in Scotland, in 1984 with the first ERASMUS group – we were the guinea pigs of this mind and heart expanding European exchange. I was a student of English in France and already loved British literature and culture; but on arrival here I fell immediately in love with the atmosphere, the landscapes, with the openness, tolerance and sense of humour.
I also met a gorgeous English boy, Miles, who has been my beloved husband for almost 29 years – my soul mate.
I love his family like my own and know they love me too. We are a truly united Franco-British, European family. Without the EU, or EEC at the time, I would not have had the freedom of movement that allowed me to settle down in England with my love and live my whole adult life, until now, with him.
But since the Brexit Referendum, I and my fellow EU27 citizens here have seen our rights retrospectively stolen from us and have been plunged by Theresa May’s government into a dark and painful limbo. From EU citizens at home in the UK we have been made into unwanted immigrants and even pariahs: “queue jumpers”, “a burden on the system” (while it is proved we are actually a financial asset), “bargaining capital” and other dehumanizing and demonising terms have been used to depict us. This has empowered xenophobes everywhere and hate crimes against our community have risen. Many of my friends no longer dare to speak their native language in public for fear of being insulted or even attacked.
Because of Brexit, an unimaginable amount and variety of tragic situations have arisen for the 5 millions of people who have dared to embrace the European dream but also for the British Remainers here.
Many friends of mine, EU 27 citizens and British citizens alike, either in the UK or in the EU, have experienced family feuds that have been so serious they feel totally isolated from members of their families and even from their partner or spouse. They have lost many friends too.
My French friend Murielle, for instance, was subjected to intense xenophobia in the part of England where she had lived for 8 years. She had no choice but to leave her home here to settle down in France. But in doing so, she had to leave behind her only family – her beloved daughter and granddaughter. Sadly she can’t get used to being back in France as she feels homesick for the UK she loved, but which she feels no longer exists because of Brexit.
The Freedom of Movement Theresa May is so proud of eradicating, and the end of which Brexiters celebrate, is the freedom for all of you my British friends to live, study, work, retire, start a business, build a home in 27 beautiful neighbouring countries.
And maybe most importantly, at least for me, it’s the right and freedom to fall in love with whomever you want and live with them in your own country or in theirs – the way you want and for however long you wish to. It’s that right that’s allowed me to meet Miles and live my life with him. It’s that right, that freedom, which Brexit will be denying you all and your children. It’s a tragic reality we will all have to face every day from now on.
The British immigration system is one of the most unfair in the world and denies British citizens, who do not have a significant amount of money, the right to fall in love with whom they want and live with their partner and children in the UK. One of the most basic human rights…
Since 2012, Theresa May has removed the rights of foreign spouses of British citizens and has created 15.000 so-called « Skype families ». These families have been forcibly separated by the HO and told to keep in touch by Skype. Of course what has followed is relationship breakdowns and traumatised children. Similarly, once we have lost the fair and humane protection of the EU, we fear this will be what the UK government will gradually impose on us, EU27 citizens. And we know that if the current immigration bill is passed, EU27 citizens arriving here post Brexit will be subjected to the Home Office’s inhuman “hostile environment”.
None of this is project fear, this is reality and it is happening to us, now. It’s breaking our hearts and destroying many lives.
The testimony I will now read was shared in our In Limbo group on Facebook. It was left by a German EU citizen married to a Brit and living here, one of the 3.6 million Europeans in the UK. What she describes so poignantly is what Brexit is doing to good people and their loved ones.
“Yesterday I had a complete breakdown. My life feels totally out of control.
My British husband and I foster British teenagers; we still pay our mortgage and my husband has cancer. On the other side, my mother in Germany is over 80 and won´t be able to look after herself for many more years. I have been living in England for 22 years and up to now it was easy to just jet over to Germany to visit my mum every second month. I could not forgive myself if something happened to her and I couldn´t be there in a matter of hours.
That´s why we decided that I would move back to Germany if GB just crashes out of the EU and my husband would stay here with the foster kids. That would be the only solution. My husband´s health insurance would be too expensive in another country, and we don´t just want to kick out our foster kids. Moreover it would be suicide trying to sell our house right now. I can´t uproot my mum who doesn’t speak English (and with the new Settled Status family reunifications will be impossible anyway). I used to love Britain and I used to love my life and home here – but right now I just feel devastated.”
This heartbreaking testimony is eerily similar to what a British friend of mine, Vicky, is experiencing too, having to make the impossible choice between her sick husband in The Netherlands and her aging parents in the UK because of Brexit.
Indeed our grief and anguish are equally shared by our British brothers and sisters who like us have built their lives on the European ideal and are living in the EU. Their stories as crushing as ours. Brexit has become a human tragedy for millions of people.
The short testimony I’m now going to read is particularly harrowing. It was written a couple of weeks ago by a British couple living in the EU:
“My wife and I both use the S1 certificate and EHIC card for healthcare. I have a chronic medical condition. I would not be eligible for private healthcare insurance. I am now in contact with Dignitas in Switzerland and a similar enterprise in Belgium.”
I cried when I first read it.
Brexit has stolen from us all both our home, the tolerant UK we have loved, as well as our beloved EU; and our identity as Europeans. I know and feel deeply for the profound suffering you too, my British friends, are experiencing.
I really hope we can still stop Brexit and save the tolerant and open Britain we have loved so much. I really hope we can also save the EU from the dark rise of the far-right.
The only silver lining in this nightmare is that Brexit has allowed us all to meet. We have made new friends who share the same human values, the same sense of history and the same hopes for the future. We are more than ever one big European family, united in our beautiful diversity.
I’d like to leave you with a poem whose sentiment applies not only to the 5 million of EU27 citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, but also, I think, to all of you, my friends. It is called “Home”.
Home is not where I was born.
It is the deepest of longings,
The special place I was meant for.
My long lost and my newly found,
My beloved, under my skin,
My hearth, my haven, and my own.
Home is where my heart can leap,
My crumpled wings unfurl.
Home is where my spirit chimes,
My soul exiled when we’re apart.
Home is not where I was born;
It is the place where I belong.
Home is where I found my way.
They’ve torn my home
Away from me
And I no longer know
Who I am.
I wish again to thank you for inviting me today, my dear friends. You represent the best of British and of Europeans.
Let’s stop Brexit!
PS: The gentleman on my right in the photo, whom I’m holding by the shoulders, is one of the many thousands of vulnerable/at risk EU citizens in the UK. He is from Romania and despite his impeccable appearance (due to extraordinary courage and self respect) he has been homeless for 11 months. He desperately wants to work but has encountered a lot of xenophobia which is why he is in this situation. He impressed us all with his will power and deep faith. He is well known and liked by the local police and has managed to keep himself from the many pitfalls of a life on the streets. With the help of a lovely lady in the High Wycombe group we hope he will be in a better place in the coming weeks. I will never forget him. His name is Rudolf.
Associate Director: In Limbo Project
Editor: In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK
Associate Director: In Limbo Project
Editor: In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK