Brexit means Brexit. Which means something. And what does something mean? Not quite sure? Me neither. I’m currently back in Italy on the beautiful island of Sicily, still travelling and still working my way from country to country, busking as I go. My recent visit to Malta means that I have now worked in every EU country bar Cyprus. I mentioned in a previous blog how easy it is to take having a British passport for granted, but it’s looking increasingly likely that, in a couple of years time, the value of such a passport will be diminished because this is the ‘will of the people’. Theresa May seems to have misunderstood the rather stark difference between the ‘will of the people’ and ‘my own interpretation of a non-binding referendum, motivated primarily by political ambition and calculation’, but the latter wouldn’t fit into a Daily Mail headline, so we have to go with ‘will of the people’ instead.
But let’s put aside the fact that I’m not still bitter about the result of a snap plebiscite that never should have been called in the first place and focus on what it actually means in reality. I currently don’t need to think about working visas etc. when I decide I want to busk in other European nations, which is lovely. I did get held up for 2 hours in Canadian immigration when they suspected me of planning to make money while I was there (which was true… and they ‘suspected’ me because I told them I was. With the benefit of hindsight, this was perhaps unneccessarily honest of me), and I am now faced with the possibility that this might be the case whenever I potter across the channel on a European jaunt. There are those who tell me to stop being melodramatic – of course this won’t be the case! We’ll still have freedom of movement to go wherever we like in the EU! We just don’t want any of them coming over to Britain!
Well, the hard Brexit that we seem to be careering towards, aided by the listlessness of the official opposition, would mean working visas. It would mean questions at the border. It would mean having a time limit of how long we can spend in a country (my guess at the moment is that we’ll end up with a system that is common for nations outside Europe, including the USA and Australia, whereby they are allowed 3 months in and 3 months out of the Schengen zone). I do not mean to seem spoilt and overly-entitled by being angry about this – I’m aware that there are many people, due to where they happen to have been born, who find travelling much more difficult because of severe restrictions on where they can and cannot go. But the point is that we had the freedom to do so and now seem intent on destroying that. It is remarkably short-sighted and driven primarily by a generation who do not see the opportunites to travel and work abroad because they haven’t always been available in the same way.
The flip side of this is the EU citizens living in Britain who are now in limbo. The 3 million citizens who were denied a say, despite having arguably the most to lose. I’ve a number of friends in this position, who are being kept waiting to hear about whether they will be deported (let’s not be coy with our language here: if someone moves to a country to work, legally, under the assumption that this right to work is indefinite, and they are then told that the rules of the game have changed, then that is deportation) because our government refuses to guarantee them the right to remain in the country they call home. They are primarily young, speak better English than many natives and want to work and contribute to society, yet they are being used as political pawns in a negotiation that is being portrayed, for reasons that are utterly beyond me, as a confrontation. It is a completely unacceptable way to treat people.
I don’t mean to patronise those who voted to leave. The majority of my friends who voted in this way are, I am sure, equally disgusted about the way our exit is currently being handled. I’m also aware that some will read this and think of me as being rather selfish – I want to work and travel, therefore we should retain freedom of movement. Perhaps that is selfish of me. But I see the way that people across Europe view the continent, and on the whole, they do not share Britain’s hostility towards outsiders. They think very little of moving to other countries for work; it is part of a natural ebb and flow.
If we must leave the EU, then so be it. It has its faults, and I share the concerns of many in terms of its focus on free markets and its suspicion of nationalisation. But no one voted to restrict our working rights. No one voted to end freedom of movement. No one voted to deport law abiding citizens. That is a political decision. From a personal point of view, I find it desperately sad that my options will, in all likelihood, soon be far more limited than they have to be. Is that selfish? Perhaps. But it is a view that I know is shared by a great many people. In the meantime, I will endeavour to make the most of the two years of working freedom that I have left, and curse my great grandparents for moving to Britain from Poland/Sweden/Ireland before having children.