We all have many friends; neighbours and colleagues who are European Nationals. I have been asking the question, just What do European Nationals really think about Brexit?
As Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50, following the European Union (notification of withdrawal) Act gaining Royal assent yesterday [16th March 2017]; I have held many conversations with colleagues from within the European Union, not only to re-assure them that I fully support them being here; but to gauge their feeling towards Brexit and those of us who voted to leave the European Union.
To add a bit of context to this debate, I must explain that I am a Conservative Councillor; Vote Leave Campaigner and I spend the remainder of my time working in a warehouse full of EU Citizens from the Eastern Bloc. We have many Polish; Lithuanian; Latvian; Slovakian and Hungarian nationals working with us. I can see that there is very much a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty amongst the core of the work force; and understandably so, I mean they came here for a better life and that is potentially under threat because the other twenty-six member states do not want to negotiate the security of the three million plus EU residents that currently dwell in the UK. Priority number six of the twelve objectives, discussed by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House, set out the Governments intentions to secure the future of these residents and of the one million plus British nationals living abroad. As such, I applaud David Davis, the Secretary of State for exiting the European Union for treating them all as one. Discussing the future of the four million rather than the three million and the one million makes much more sense and actually means that neither are being used as a bargaining chip between the UK and the EU.
I also applaud the spirit of the EU nationals who have launched a Parliamentary Petition to get the taxes repaid that have been contributed by the EU Nationals, if their security is not guaranteed.
The fact that the commons voted to overrule the unelected Lords on both of their amendments is not a sign that MPs do not want to secure the rights of EU Nationals, far from it, it is partly the fact that the Bill was only ever intended to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of leaving the EU and partly due to the poor writing of the amendment. I have often said that the fact that the original referendum legislation was so poorly written is the reason that we had to have an act of parliament to trigger Article 50 in the first place. So much legislation is extremely poor quality, in the way that it is written, for example; the fact that the marriage act didn’t include education of heterosexual marriage in schools meant that I personally didn’t support it. I was criticised for it, but the LGBT community were so incredibly critical of Section 28, that they went the opposite way with the new legislation. In this case, had the amendment to the bill included British Nationals abroad, I’m sure it would have gathered more support in the commons.
At the time of writing, I was at the Conservative Spring Forum in Cardiff. I met and had interesting discussions with a Polish bar manager at the hotel where I was staying. He came to Britain on a work Visa in 2003. I think that it is worth pointing out at this juncture that this was a full year before Poland joined the European Union. He made it clear to me, however that he supports what Britain have voted for as he did not vote to join the EU himself. This is a feeling and a view that I hear echoed around our warehouse in my native East Midlands. Many of the Polish nationals feel the same way, they did not want Poland to be a member state and they support the British People in wanting to leave.
I also believe that Poland used to have reciprocal freedom of movement arrangements; Britain and Ireland had open borders with Poland but any nation with tighter borders received reciprocal treatment in Poland.
The fact that these people support the British decision does not, however deter from their collective and understandable anxiety stemming from the huge and stark uncertainty coming from the European Union. I have a particularly close friend who has recently been granted permanent residency and is considering applying for British Citizenship.
Given the history of reciprocal freedom in Poland, is it any wonder that the Polish Citizens are cautious now?
I have explained my reasons for voting to leave to many of my colleagues and in the case of most of them, they will resonate with what I am saying, having come from communist led countries themselves, the fact that I voted for British Sovereignty; more control over trade and exports and better financial control leads many of them agree fully with my reasons.
Will there be a surge in applications for residency over the next two years in order to solidify a place in Britain? In a way, I hope that there will be, because that will prove the point that a strong, independent, free trading, outward looking fairer Britain is a better choice for those three million people than going back to an A10 Country in the European Union. I am not sure how the British Civil Service would react to a surge in applications though, I am told that the waiting time is currently around six months.
Obviously, I have not spoken to every EU National in the East Midlands, but I have spoken to a fair few of my colleagues. Do not get me wrong, there is anxiety among them, there is definite uncertainty, but on the whole, they agree with the decision. I have had to explain my reasons for voting leave to many of the more cynical amongst them, and I am personally keeping the large majority of them informed on the exit negotiations as a way of reassuring them.
In Simple Terms, our cohabiters from the former Eastern Bloc are uncertain and in many ways Anxious about their future, understandably so, but many of them agree with Britain’s reasons for voting to leave and a lot of the support the decision.