A talk given at the Global Bradford event on Sunday 11th August 2019
Good Afternoon and many thanks to the organisers for putting together today’s event. How wonderful to see the Caribbean, Africa, India and Europe coming together in harmony with delicious food, poetry, music and dance! Thank you for enriching my life with today’s experience!
Thank you for welcoming me to talk to you about the In Limbo Project.
I am not here on my own: with me are 300 friends who contributed to our books and are just a small sample of the 5 million people in limbo on both sides of the channel. Add to that our approximately 15 million family members who are British citizens and you will find that almost a third of the British population has been silenced.
Ours is a distinct and separate group, but of course we work very closely with many other groups and we all mutually support each other. The In Limbo Project operates on a not-for-profit basis and is entirely funded by donations and all money from sales goes back into the project. Hence, as well as several thousand purchases by the general public via Amazon and at events like this, we have to date presented books to over 1000 politicians and journalists, both in the UK and in the other European countries, many of whom had little understanding of the situation we face under the brexit this government is delivering. The focus of the project is the human side of brexit and what it means to be European.
Several contributors of testimonies preferred to sign with their initials or remain anonymous because of concerns about possible discrimination. Others will never appear in the book, as their writers felt they had too much to lose and were fearful of repercussions. Some are too vulnerable, maybe elderly and frail, to even write a testimony. Nonetheless, I feel that they are here with us today and I have an obligation to speak for them as much as for ourselves.
After publishing our first book “In Limbo: Brexit Testimonies from EU citizens in the UK” in June 2017, last year we collaborated with the group Brexpats Hear Our Voice and on the second anniversary of the referendum published “In Limbo Too: Brexit Testimonies from UK Citizens in the EU”
The approximately 150 testimonies of In Limbo Too tell of the anger of British citizens, who feel not only betrayed, but also ashamed, cast adrift, fearful and uncertain.
They are incensed that EU citizens in the UK are being used as bargaining chips, allegedly to secure their rights, but really for no other purpose than to divide and rule. Instead they stand with us in solidarity, as they too were denied a vote in the referendum and will feel the effects of Brexit most keenly!
We are each other’s twins and mirror images, we are flipsides of the same coin, both having exercised our treaty right to freedom of movement.
Indeed, by welcoming them into the In Limbo Project and adding their voices to our own, we have shown more care for them then their own government and some of their own family members "back home" in the UK who have happily abandoned them. If you look at the cover illustration of the two books you will see that the humans in them form a family – because we are one big, happy human family!
Both books are collections of personal accounts and reveal the practical and emotional turmoil we have experienced since the 2016 Referendum. They focus on the human side and give a voice to just a small sample of the millions of citizens who have often been treated in the political discourse as a depersonalised mass of ‘migrants’ – which is actually and factually incorrect, as European directives on free movement refer to all EU nationals, British people included, as ‘citizens’: we are all equal and benefiting from the same rights.
In contrast, our anthologies reveal individuals, whose lives have been interrupted, plunged into limbo, by political events few could have anticipated. We are citizens at home in the European Union and our books aim to inform and fight against prejudice by touching hearts and opening minds.
Something has happened in Britain to demote us from EU citizens to “EU migrants” and “immigrants” and it was done to dehumanise and vilify us, to pit small sections of society against each other, to divide and rule. This othering normalises xenophobia and racism. “Where do you come from?” is no longer an innocent question expressing curiosity and interest.
We don’t really feel welcome anymore.
I would like to focus on women a little. The 3 million group, which campaigns for the ring-fencing of our rights alongside the In Limbo Project and the British in Europe is run by 75% female volunteers and on the remain scene we are colloquially known as the “In Limbo Ladies”, because so many of our group and consequently our advocates are women.
It turned out that there was an imbalance in our testimonies for the first book – there were far more women than men who submitted their testimonies! Initially we thought that this reflects women being more willing to open up and voice their concerns. We can’t tell for sure, but now suspect that this reflects the reality that there are more women who are from EU countries married to British men and residing in the UK than the other way round….because funnily enough, when we collated the testimonies for the second book, we found that there were more British men than women who had ventured abroad!
And now, many of our group members have embarked on their brexodus. Why should we stay and pay tax on our income if we are not truly welcome?
This is Luciano’s farewell note to Britain, which resonates with us all:
“I came here as a citizen of Europe within Europe, but things have changed.
I have experienced how the media have stopped referring to me as an EU citizen and started calling me an EU migrant.
This was done to dehumanise me and xenophobia is being normailsed in order to get rid of people like me.
Today I am voting with my feet.
Today I am leaving the country for good.
Good bye UK.
You were good to me.
And then you weren’t.”
Those were Luciano’s words.
Personally, I am exhausted. I wish I could leave, but I cannot uproot my husband and children only to put them in limbo elsewhere. Like many others I am stuck here.
The reasons why we can’t leave a manifold: not only are there children and spouses to be considered. There are elderly relatives, businesses that cannot be transplanted and qualifications which will not be recognised abroad. If I was to leave with my children, but without my husband’s consent to remove them from the country, I would be committing the criminal offence of kidnapping. There are many women trapped in the UK because their ex-husband’s are not giving permission for their children to move! And then there are these two ladies, who do not wish to leave behind the graves they look after: one the mother of a British soldier killed in action in Afghanistan, the other the widow of a Briton, who was the love of her life, and because he is no longer alive she cannot get British citizenship without losing her Dutch citizenship.
I have been working so hard – unpaid – and missing my children’s childhoods into the bargain to make British people aware of how all our rights are being undermined. These are all our rights - YOUR rights!
What will it take for British people to wake up and take to the streets and cry NOT IN MY NAME and hold their government to account?
I have marched, shouted and chanted until I was hoarse, spoken in public with my knees shaking, all of my body trembling, snapped at my children not to disturb me while I was spending hours on writing public speeches for gatherings like this or pouring over complicated legal texts working hard to understand what they mean, and what brexit will mean ….. and I am close to burning out.
I do this because – to quote Edmund Burke – “for evil to prevail, all that is necessary is for good people to do nothing!”
In years to come, I will know what I did to stop evil.
How do you think I felt having to tell my daughter that when she starts secondary school in September, I might no longer have the right to live here anymore?
To protect my family, I had to apply for Settled Status, the very existence of which in its current form is a violation of human rights. It offers no assurances, treats us like criminals on parole and several details are being changed already. By definition, it reduces the rights I had already acquired!
In 2018, a female prime minister removed the right to vote from 3.6 million people, while at the same time celebrating the centenary of the suffragettes!
I had to apply to stay in my home of 30 years and that application could have been rejected. In fact, my first attempt was effectively rejected: I had to supply additional evidence.
I pay National Insurance Contributions and Council Tax and receive Working Tax Credits, but apparently, HMRC and the DWP do not hold enough evidence for my residence here.
I have a simple question for you: where is home?
Is home where your heart is? That can be in many places!
Just think of all the places where you have felt at ease and happy and which your happy memories connect to your heart!
Or is it just the place where you live?
Well, I have lived in Great Britain for 30 years and 20-odd years ago I had automatically acquired permanent residence in the UK and with it the right to apply for British citizenship, but why would I exchange one EU citizenship for another, right? This government stripped that right from me in 2011 without informing me.
This hurts and I am bitter.
I came here for the love of my chosen subject, fell in love with the place and after falling in love with a Scotsman, he moved here to be with me. Freedom of Movement enabled me to follow my heart and my dreams! That’s what people do – human beings have moved and migrated since time immemorial. Migration should be a human right, because we are a migratory species!
I would like to illustrate some ways in which the EU Settlement Scheme – or the rather Unsettled Status we EU citizens now have to apply for – is levered to disadvantage women and I will use my own recent experience of being coerced by *this* government to beg for permission to stay in my home of 30 years to illustrate this. Before looking at the process, please bear in mind that the very existence of the EU Settlement Scheme in its current form is a violation of human rights.
It by definition reduces the rights I had already acquired! In 2018, a female prime minister removed the right to vote from 3.6 million people, while at the same time celebrating the centenary of the suffragettes!
I appreciate that a solution has to be found so that EU citizens resident in the UK can prove what rights they have and none of us would object to a simple registration, but that’s not what we are getting here.
This is an application.
An application can be rejected and I was made to apply for rights which I had previously acquired and which were illegally taken from me by Theresa May’s Home Office in 2011, without any information being made available!
So, in order to reduce the risk that our family would be torn apart and for the sake of my children I decided to apply for Settled Status.
The first problem presents itself in the Document Checking App which was created specifically for the purpose of applying for the EU Settlement Scheme. It can work well and is technically good, if you have the right kind of device and are in full time employment for the last 5 years without interruption.
It requires a fairly new phone and only an android 6 or higher will do. You cannot use an iphone. My phone is an android 7, so I thought I would be fine, but alas, it does not have NFC capability, so I had to borrow my husband’s phone. Forgive me the use of a stereotype, but it is a fact that many women, especially of an older generation are not particularly tech savvy and therefore might struggle to even access the app. Although anyone who has been here since before December 1988 can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain via the Windrush Scheme, this is not very well known or publicised and also involves finding a considerable amount of evidence. This is why I decided to take part in the Settled Status Trial – for ease and speed – and to put up with the data protection issues raised by the fact that the Home Office can share my data with “private and public third parties in the UK and overseas”, but doesn’t have to tell me who they share it with because the Home Office is exempt from the data protection law GDPR. This data comprises the information stored in the chip on my passport, such as my fingerprints and biometrics as well as all the other information from my passport, together with my address, National Insurance Number and all my tax records held by HMRC and DWP. And there is no law stopping them from selling all this data to Coca-Cola in years to come.
I have the added complication of being a German citizen which means that if I were to acquire British citizenship after Brexit, I would automatically lose my German citizenship. I am sure that you would agree that I would be stupid to risk my German passport! Hence speed is of the essence for me. Plus I need to raise the money to pay £2000 for the British citizenship.
Secondly, bank accounts and household bills are often in the name of the husband, especially if he is the main breadwinner. Many of the women who are now forced to apply for this new status have been in the UK for many years, decades even, but only the last 5 years are relevant to the Settled Status App. The application process requires two contacts with HMRC and DWP per year, but if a family is in receipt of Working Tax Credits, it is only renewed annually, meaning that the automated part of the system does not have enough evidence to prove residence. Of course we all know that it is more common for women to take career breaks and be carers for elderly relatives or children, so more women than men find themselves in a position where they struggle to find 5 years’ worth of documentation.
Although the Home Office website states that annual bank summaries can be used, I was informed by my case worker that these are not sufficient because they do not show any transactions and hence I should supply Council Tax bills – lucky that my name is on them!
The Home Office’s IT system can only accept uploads of up to 10 documents, but if supplying bank statements for 5 years, then 60 statements would be needed. And you might be surprised, but there are many women out there who do not have bank accounts in their own names!
If we had come here as immigrants, we might have kept records, but since we came here as citizens exercising their treaty right to free movement there was no need to keep old bills, statements and payslips.
From 2011 until January 2019, I was unable to apply for Permanent Residence, because I did not keep records from before the year 2000 proving that I had comprehensive sickness insurance while I was a student. Am I supposed to have foreseen Brexit 20 years ago?
It does make me wonder whether the words “retroactive laws are illegal” mean anything to this government.
The requirement for Comprehensive Sickness Insurance or CSI is an example of how *this* government is illegally using EU directives against human beings.
EU directive 2004/38 states that in order to be deemed to be exercising treaty rights a citizen from one EU country resident in another EU country must have adequate medical cover so that they do not become destitute if they fall ill. Most EU countries have an insurance based system, which is usually run by the state and not private, so for example in Germany 80% of population have state insurance. The UK’s NHS is unique in that there is no transparency of contributions into the system made via income tax. The EU countries all accept the EHIC cards issued by the NHS, but the Home Office does not. The EU and the DWP recognise that registration with the NHS fulfils the CSI requirement, so did the Home Office from 2004 until 2011, but since then they reason that the NHS is not funded from National Insurance Contributions, but only from income tax, which self-sufficient people such as students or carers and stay at home parents do not pay. By the way, in 2004 I had already been in this country for 16 years – more than three times the length of time it takes to automatically acquire permanent residence.
If that is not an example of making ex post facto laws, then I don’t know what is!
And here is an apparently truly girly problem: during the application process you have to take a selfie. This photo will for ever be associated with your file on the home office’s site and every future landlord and employer is supposed to access this and keep a record of it. Is it just me who is not too happy about sharing my date of birth and my middle name with a prospective employer or landlord?
Anyway, when I sat down to do my application – on the one evening a week when my husband and I were both at home at the same time and after a long day at work – and saw that I would have to take a picture, I simply had to stop and put on some make up!
You might think this is frivolous, but is it frivolous for the woman fleeing domestic violence who has left her partner after a fight and cannot claim Universal Credit unless she has Settled Status and worries about the bruises in her face being there for every future landlord to see….?
Imagine that you left an abusive relationship with nothing but your life and the clothes on your back. You would not have any evidence which you could supply to the Home Office to prove your residence. You will remember that I used my husband’s phone to apply for Settled Status. What if he decided to say “you need me to be allowed to stay in this country”? That’s what more than one of our group members were told by their husbands. And we know of others who stayed in relationships for fear of the effect it would have on their status. Or the lady who did not have a valid passport with which to complete the application, nor the money to get one, thanks to the coercive control of her partner. Did you know that some citizens whose countries have restrictions on dual citizenship (there are 8 EU countries where this applies), have to get a certificate from the Home Office to prove that they have not acquired British citizenship? This certificate NQ1 is only valid for 6 months and costs £250.
I would like to read you a testimony which was shared with me:
“This woman, after a marriage where her husband controlled her, found herself divorced from him and without any proof of her residency in the UK or her years of working for the family business owned by the husband. Her ex-husband and she have shared custody of their three (?) children, and she lives in terror of not being able to continue living here as she has no resources, not being able to prove her residency in the UK and of being sent back to France, separated from her children.
He seems to be playing on that to still abuse her.
She did not manage to find work I think partly because of the "nationality preference" related to Brexit, plus there are not many jobs in Cornwall. I also know she had problems to get unemployment benefits. She is homeless, very fragile and on strong antidepressants.”
If a society is judged by how it treats its weakest members, what should be the judgement on Brexit Britain? Should we stand by and allow evil to prevail?
When talking about our project, I have often met third country nationals, who have pointed out that they have been at the receiving end of the Home Office’s greed and inhuman treatment for years and accused me of just being butt-hurt in my white privilege. And yes, I am!
But that does not make it okay!
Removing my privileges does absolutely nothing whatsoever to bring about a fairer immigration system. You do not combat inequality by pushing one section of people down, but only by raising up those who are less privileged.
This is not just about Brexit, but also about the hostile environment and how our human rights are violated.
25 years ago I campaigned with the NUS against cuts to student grants. I didn’t have to do this: I did not receive a grant, but worked in Germany during the holidays earning three times what I could earn here to supplement the allowance from my dad and my fees were paid for by the German government. I campaigned in solidarity with my classmates.
And now I am asking for your solidarity in challenging the Brexit this government is delivering and the way in which everyone’s human rights are violated.
Wherever and whenever you see racism and xenophobia, please call it out and protect the victims.
Please reflect and ask the EU citizens in your life, your work, your neighbourhood how they are.
It is high time that the 5 million people who are most affected are heard.
If you have an opportunity to give a platform to EU citizens to share their plight, please invite them to share their stories!
You could look up the Yellow Rose initiative to express your appreciation of the EU citizens in your community and support the work of the 3 million and the In Limbo Project.
Please talk about politics: what the European Union means and what Brexit inflicts.
Join us on the march in October when we take to the streets of London (AGAIN) to demand a Final Say For All.
Please write to your MPs – even if they have already expressed support for the people’s vote – ask them to support a referendum on the deal versus the option to remain.
Remind them of everything EU citizens and all those who just happen to be born elsewhere add to this country – in the NHS, the care sector, education as well as the very fabric of life – and tell them that you do not want to lose your citizens’ rights.
Give them evidence and proof in the form of letters and emails that this is what you, their constituents, really want.
And please ask for a final say for all, for the 5 million and young people aged 16-18 to be enfranchised.
We have campaigned for over 3 years now and have won on several fronts:
- Theresa May has scrapped the fee for the Settled Status application.
- In March the Parliament voted to ring-fence some of our rights and we are now lobbying the EU council to give the negotiators the mandate to do so.
- we had to fight tooth and nail to win it back the right to vote in the last local elections 3 months ago and are now campaigning for EVERYONE with Indefinite Leave to Remain to be enfranchised to vote, not just in local elections, but in ALL elections and referenda!
Who would have thought that we need Emily Pankhurst to come back a century later in 2019? Who would have thought that after nearly 300 years the phrase NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION would again have such burning relevance?
I am going to leave you with a quote from the Italian poet Dante, whose Inferno inspired the title and cover illustration of our books. He starts with the words:
“Midway upon the journey of my life I found myself in a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
He ends saying: “E quindi uscimmi a riveder le stelle”
“Thence we came forth to re-behold the stars”
And that is the wish from all of us at the In Limbo Project that we can one day all re-behold the stars as happy and settled as we were before the referendum.
Thank you for listening