A Twitter user recently challenged those who voted Remain to list three ways in which their lives had got worse since Britain left the EU. I answered with my three, but suggested that there were many more. As a former Stretford Mancunian, now resident of France for 11 years, this is my view of post Brexit life in the European Union.
What if Liverpool ‘Brexited’ from the North West?
Imagine that you live in Birkenhead, all your relatives live on the other side of the Mersey, you do all your main shopping in Liverpool and visit IKEA near Warrington. For this, you would travel through the tunnel to the shops, visit friends and loved ones or take the M62 to IKEA. But imagine that Liverpool then decides to charge a large annual fee, £500 or £1,000 say, to give you access to the tunnels under the Mersey.
They insist on ID and proof of residence and to pay a ‘duty’ on goods purchased, resulting in long queues and hours wasted waiting to have your paperwork checked and having to pay the duty on any goods you transfer, including such things as Christmas and birthday presents. That is the UK equivalent of what Brexit feels like for the Brits who decided to retire or work in the EU, back in the day when we were all part of the same community.
But Brexit is much worse, and it’s not just about borders.
Brexit: making life that much more difficult
Before Brexit landed on us, UK citizens living in the EU would pay a little to bank in the UK and transfer funds into the EU. Retiree pensions transferred into UK banks and then necessary funds moved to EU banks simply and cheaply. Now every withdrawal from a UK bank costs upwards of €5.
Travelling around pre-Brexit EU was trouble free, without checks or hold ups. Deciding to move to another EU country to work or retire was easy. Crossing to and from the UK was simple. And even though the UK had opted out of the Schengen system of open borders, there were no restrictions on reasonable transport of those things that could only be obtained in the UK, such as plants, food, furniture, presents – whatever was needed.
When Brexit finally materialised, it was rushed to conclusion, and as a result has been confusing and chaotic. For example, it forced UK citizens in the EU to exchange their driving licences and obtain residency permits before imposed deadlines. Deadlines that frequently had to be extended; deadlines that many individuals missed.
These changes were lengthy processes (in France, it can take over a year for a driving licence exchange and over six months for a residency permit) and were stressful procedures involving queuing at local administrative offices. This is especially traumatic for the elderly, and the problems are ongoing.
Rights have disappeared post-Brexit
Voting rights in EU state local elections and elections of EU members of parliament disappeared overnight. These were fundamental rights for those who sought to properly integrate in their country of residence.
When we were members of the EU, there were no restrictions on family members moving to live with relatives, for short periods or permanently. Post Brexit, if you have parents who eventually need your care and you wish them to relocate to your EU home, there are tortuous routes that now need navigating, through local and national bureaucracy, such as long-term visas and meeting income thresholds. Very lengthy and stressful processes forced on those who thought that establishing a life in the EU would fulfil a dream that took years to plan and would be idyllic and stress free.
The EU no longer recognise UK qualifications post Brexit. Consequently, those who moved to the EU before Brexit and did not get their qualifications officially recognised before the end of the transition period, face now the prospect of their qualifications being unrecognised. For engineers, veterinarians, teachers, and others, that is a potentially serious career threatening prospect. My degree in engineering and garden design HNC are both now worthless in the EU. Any professionals now need to apply for ‘professional recognition’ which potentially takes months and risks rejection.
Brexit didn’t have to be this bad
More careful and thoughtful negotiation by the UK government could have avoided so many negative impacts for UK citizens residing in the EU. Instead, the ill-prepared rush to ‘get Brexit done’ resulted in inevitable difficulties and barriers. All the UK citizens residing in the EU now exist in a form of limbo, physically in the EU but emotionally and practicably not included in their chosen home.
It didn’t have to be this bad. A different government – one that had the best interests of all UK citizens in mind – would have engaged positively with our closest ally and conducted a considered and equitable negotiation. The uncertainty we’re experiencing, and the forced disconnect from our chosen country, could have been avoided.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not decrying our lot here in the EU. In fact, it could be argued that we are. For a start, not living under anything like the levels of government neglect as our friends back home, so our blessings are there for the counting!