I’m living the European dream. I’ve been in the UK for nearly 20+ years, with three years in France and I’m now married to a wonderful Brit with a rescue dog from Ireland. The question is now, for how much longer can I do so.
In the last year and a half this dream has taken a nasty turn and kept me awake more times I care to count. Nearly every week, just as you have calmed down from the last bit of news, you read something new that depresses and destabilises you even more about what the future holds, rocking the foundations of this place you thought you could call home.
I came to the UK in my early twenties way back in ‘94 on the old E303 programme (now called the U2), a scheme which allowed me to look for work in the UK while claiming Danish benefits for up to three months. I didn’t manage to find a job, but liked it so much over here that I tried to see if there was any other way of getting back to the UK. I was lucky to find that through another EU scheme I could study in the UK, since my course didn’t exist in DK, but was a good way to continue my studies.
Over the years I worked in a range of different jobs and paid into the UK’s tax coffers – anything from white van man to web designer to cycling instructor to running my own small business. I also did some jobs that were not the most glamorous, like delivering sandwiches by bike in London. I enjoyed them all. And yes, I claimed benefits when I found myself in between jobs, but only for a few weeks. I often managed to find a job before I could sign on, so ended up claiming nothing.
I even got head-hunted and lived the life of Riley, working in London and living in Paris and vice versa. It was great fun waking up in Paris, jumping on the Eurostar and still be the first person in the office in Central London. I ended up staying in France for about three years before I settled back in to London in 2003, because I felt so much at home there. So much at home in fact that after taking a year to cycle the world with my partner we left London and moved oop NORTH, buying our own Victorian terrace in a small Yorkshire market town. There is hardly anything more British.
Since living and working in London I have met people from all around the world: British, French, Japanese, American… Some friends I even consider to be family, and their friendship I would not be without. Which I would have been hard pressed to do in Denmark which is far less multicultural with the exception of perhaps Copenhagen. I see myself first and foremost as an European, then a Dane, with heavy dose of British thrown in for good measure. My wife, too, has lived the European dream thanks to the EU, living and working in France and Spain funded by the Socrates programme. Heck, she even currently works in a study abroad office at a university, sending students abroad thanks to the EU’s Erasmus programme.
Eee by gum. I drink Yorkshire Tea, black mind, none of that milk and sugar malarkey. I enjoy a good fry up, fine ales and walks or cycles in the British countryside. The weather doesn’t bother me, but that doesn’t stop me talking about it like a true Brit. As the saying goes there isn’t bad weather, just bad choice of clothing.
In 2013 I became really ill and couldn’t work, on good days I could work part-time but they become far between. During that time my partner supported me and I didn’t claim benefits as I was not entitled to them. The idea that EU citizens have unfettered access to benefits in the UK is just false.
Luckily now I’m much recovered and back at work, but I still don’t know if I can stay or will be allowed to work in the UK after March 2019 (or the 2-5 years down the line gov.uk is “dreaming” up). One of the many questions that are constantly whirring round my head: how long will I need to have been in the UK to be able to stay? What is the definition of five years continuous residence in the government’s proposal for “settled status”? If I am granted the right to stay in the UK, will I be able to leave and live and work abroad without losing my settled rights? It seems that, well, nobody knows. The ground under my feet continues to shift like quicksand.
The kick in the teeth is that I haven’t lived in Denmark, had a bank account or paid tax there since 1995. So I can’t just “move back where I come from”. The other kick in the teeth (yes, there are many kicks) is that we can’t just move to another European country because my British wife will have been stripped of her EU citizenship against her will and no longer have the rights to live and work in 27 other countries when Brexit happens. We don’t know if, say if we moved to Denmark or France or wherever in the EU, would she be allowed to live there as a British citizen or could she stay and work there linked to my rights as an European citizen?
I just have way too many questions to make the dreams just dreams again, and not sleepless nights.