The 23rd of June 2016 was a dark day for my husband and me. We tried to joke about the referendum, as neither of us actually believed the outcome would be in favour of Brexit. We discussed what country to flee to in the event that it all went disastrously wrong, and settled on Canada. I ranted about how unfair it was that I didn’t get a vote, as a resident for 13 years and a taxpayer for 7 (after 6 years of higher education).
Maria, United Kingdom
Firstly I must explain that I’m very fortunate and privileged that I don’t have the Brexit Sword of Damocles over my own head. I live in the UK and am British by birth so my rights here are unaffected. Thanks to my Italian mamma I am also Italian so I remain an EU citizen. It’s a little complicated but my children also have the right to dual nationality through blood line and my husband through marriage. Things should be good and I should be riding high but I’m not!! Brexit is in my thoughts all the time because I worry about how this whole thing will affect my 90 year old Italian mum. I suppose it’s mum’s testimony really but she is elderly and suffers with Alzheimer’s so isn’t really aware of what is happening so I do the worrying for her. When I heard the result after the referendum, my heart skipped a beat. My British husband and I could hardly speak, we felt numb, afraid, angry, hopeless and a whole mixture of other emotions. I tried telling myself that it would be ok as we could remain EU citizens and mum arrived 60 years ago so she couldn’t possibly be affected. It didn’t work because nobody was confirming that pre EUers would be ok. But also I personally love that we are such a rich mix of people in the UK and I have friends who most certainly are affected. Mum’s story started after the war. At the time there were adverts stuck to village walls for Italians to come and work in the mills of Yorkshire. Initially my mum was not interested but due to her sister and her niece being abandoned by their husband / dad and the family having to support them and the general post war poverty in Italy she started to think about applying and she eventually decided to come. As the others from her village were already in England mum came alone. She travelled on the train all the way from her village in southern Italy. She was immensely brave to do this as she had led a very sheltered life hardly ever going further than the surrounding villages. She was not highly educated like many arrivals today as my grandparents couldn’t afford for her to continue her education, but she was bright. She was also a hard worker and has always been respected wherever she has worked. Her intention was to stay for a short time and then return to Italy but life’s not like that. When she arrived she worked in a mill and lived in a hostel for the workers. She didn’t like living there so eventually went to live as a lodger with an Italian friend who was already married to a Ukrainian. Whilst there my Ukrainian dad visited his friend and saw her and immediately fell in love with her. He persuaded her to go out with him which eventually she did. A few months later they married and a few years later they had my sister who was still born and then me. I’m an only child. Needless to say, her plans to return after a short while were abandoned. My parents had a true love story and there was talk of retiring to Italy but my dad’s health never allowed that. My dad passed away 26 years ago and my mum misses him every day. She wants to be buried with him and he is in England. They both worked so hard, mainly in low paid jobs but they didn’t claim anything. They overcame prejudice and soon they were adored by their British neighbours. The same neighbours who later admitted how worried they were that foreigners were moving in (around 46 years ago) loved my mum’s charm and generosity and my dad’s gentle manner. They called me the Little Princess and spoiled me whenever they could. As their daughter I think back to their lives and I swell with pride. My mum’s bravery at coming all alone and my dad’s gratitude to the British for allowing him to stay which allowed him to live rather than being shot at Stalin’s command. My parents are my heroes. Since the Brexit referendum I have found my mum’s immigration paperwork but cannot get a definitive answer as to what that means now. Every time I ask I get a different answer as there’s so much information about EU migrants but hardly anything for the pre EUers. I don’t think she will ever be required to leave the country but I can’t bear the thought that she might be expected to provide fingerprints or anything like that. A dignified and decent woman being treated like a criminal. I also worry about her rights to access services such as the NHS or Social Services. My worries also extend to my friends who are affected by this whole fiasco and I despise that human beings are being treated as bargaining chips !!!!
For me the ultimate goal will be that after having taken bite sizes of time out of my life for about a year I will make the move back to Germany on 30 September 2017 – after 22 years in the UK (I will turn 38 in October). On the back of this huge shuffle sits the very readable list of downsizing, selling my flat, moving into rented accommodation, terminating my job, handing over all freelance arrangements and business contacts I build in London, packing boxes, donating unwanted items, moving in itself, finding a place to live in Germany, registering the address, completing all the legalese, signing up for insurance, sorting out pension arrangements and setting up a bank account. I could add a few but this pretty much sums things up – except that it doesn’t…It would be a lie if anybody could sit in front of a computer intending to write a project plan and then pitch this to an audience in the form of a Gantt chart. We are talking human lives after all! On the back of this my humble steps will only be the first in an extended family move of an oldest sister and a twin sister with her family. Neither knows for sure whether their qualifications are transferrable to another country, but will work hard to transfer what they can – mine are definitely not so I will have to adapt professionally or start again. They will move to protect the future of their family, our extended family, marriage and their right to live together with three different passports and nationalities. All this plays out against the backdrop of a family of great grandparents, grandparents, parents, us three with partners and children reaching across three different countries with professional paths taking us from Greece and Germany, into Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland and the UK. We took our opportunities as the greatest accomplishment of our ancestors’ sacrifices. The story we wrote became our right and what made us unique as a generation; our glue is blue with yellow glitter. We travelled together by driving across border crossings at our liberty and saw entire walls crumble as we grew older. We shared fresh food from all over the world at our dinner tables. We drank wine from further afield then our grandparents could have ever walked to. The EU became our oxygen! It has become who we are – our DNA… Yet, all this changed in one night. Who knows where we go from here? What plays on all our minds is the fear of whether this is just the beginning of the worst nightmare we will come to witness OR the end of a bad dream we will eventually recover from.
by SR, Germany and Irish husband
London has been amazing for us, my Irish husband and me, German. We have lived here for almost 20 years and we came with nothing. My husband got into Advertising after working in different restaurants for several years, because he was told that he was good with numbers. I arrived with my degree in Paintings Conservation. He managed to set up 2 companies from scratch and after working for other restorers I set up my own studio just before we started having children. All 3 of them are English by heart with a German passport. They could have the Irish one, but my husband has not been that organised. I have always been conscious as a German working in English Art Collections as we were brought up feeling ashamed of our country’s history. But it did not hinder my career! I have had fabulous projects for the National Trust, the V&A and other wonderful organisations. My husband was lucky enough to sell both his agencies and leave immediately as he wanted to find a new path in life. Based on this new found freedom we took our 3 children out of school last summer on the basis of home schooling and went on a sabbatical trip around world. What timing! I will never forget the moment waking up at 5am and seeing the Brexit vote results! Both of us immediately did not feel welcome anymore, because we had lived away from our home countries for so long, we had started to identify ourselves as Europeans. But I know, we have been so lucky to set off and observe the developments from a distance and I have been a member of this group almost from the beginning and I have felt heartbroken so many times reading your stories. We just went away to teach our children about different cultures in the hope that this will create kindness and openness in their hearts for every human being. We volunteered in a school in India, we hiked in the Himalayas and we took Spanish classes in South America. Throughout our trip we were constantly debating – what next? And we often had sleepless nights. In early July we returned to London and we were welcomed so warmly by all our friends. There did not seem to be a change at all and Lambeth had the highest voters to remain anyway. But there is this anger inside me and it does not go away. We should all be working together as a united Europe as it was founded as a historical consequence. So many people have stated the facts here. So I am not going further into the long debate we all had numerous times. But it has led to our decision to leave London. We have found a flat in Berlin. It is all very rushed to get there on time before school starts at the end of the month. I am very grateful that we have the freedom to make this decision and I have spoken to many people who can’t. But in my heart I will continue to support each and everyone of you! And who knows? We might not like Berlin and we are very aware that this could be a big mistake. After all the UK has been our home for 20 years and we missed it very much during our world trip. I have only now started telling people and all my lovely colleagues I have worked with. It is daunting to start out again in Berlin with no contacts. But I also need to settle the kids first, who don’t want to go….