Yes, it’s been a while again since I’ve blogged. 2016 has been a tough year: my father died and that meant many trips to Germany and sorting out his affairs. My brothers and I live in three different EU countries and this all required a significant amount of travelling and focus. I have also spent significant time to campaign for the Remain campaign to keep the UK in the EU.
I’m coming out of the woodwork shortly before the referendum to make my personal case to anyone who is undecided, or even leaning towards Brexit. Let me start with the frustratingly necessary disclaimer: the EU is not perfect and requires constantly vigilant citizens who keep it to account. You are directly represented by your elected MEP – it’s their job to do so, even if they’re a Kipper. It’s also your government’s job to do so. They can (yes, even in the EU), they just chose the path of least resistance most of the time when they didn’t get the most exemptions amongst all other EU countries.
I am not going to make the rational argument here. There have been enough numbers and facts – you can choose to engage with them or ignore them. I am going to appeal to your humanity, by saying this: Please don’t destroy my life by voting for Brexit.
Here goes the explanation: my family’s love for the UK was based on the beautiful time we spent here in the mid-seventies when my father (thanks to an EC science exchange) moved all of us to London for a year. Thirty years after a war for which generations of Germans felt (rightly) guilty, we were warmly welcomed and it made all of us not only anglophiles but also convinced Europeans, as this life-changing opportunity came from the then EC.
As the EC turned into the EU and with free movement emerging, my brothers and I built lives and careers all over Europe. I’ve never seen my dad more proud of me than the day I could tell him and my mother that I had found a job in London. It was badly paid and fairly junior, but they treated like I had won the lottery. And this is how I felt, as over the next decade, I built a career helping your young people into work, being on the board of your charities, paying taxes, never stealing any of your benefits, and generally helping build the UK’s future. That is until about two years ago when the fairly toxic migration rhetoric started to include EU migrants. That’s when things changed for me.
You are hurting my career by voting Leave
I am an economic migrant – I came here when the German economy offered me no prospects, just your like your builders came to Germany when Thatcher reordered your society and economy in the eighties. It is the declared aim of the Leave campaign to bring EU migration under strict control, just like migration from the rest of the world. This means I will be affected. Most probably I’ll get some indefinite leave to remain, or a work permit, given that the UK doesn’t want hundreds of thousands of British pensioners making their way back into UK housing, social care and the NHS. But by doing this, you are downgrading me in comparison to UK citizens when applying for jobs, as I will lose what is now my legal right. Selection by background is rife in UK recruitment – I see this, as this is after all my area of work – and just ever so softly, I will slide into the ‘EU applicants’ pile. Once a category has been created, it will be used, and normally not for good.
But I am affected more directly: my current employer’s business depends a bit more than a third on EU students. The UK has already been sliding down in the international competition within higher education, and EU students already go where they can study UK-style degrees at just the same standards (thanks to the Bologna process), and that more cheaply. Brexit will affect our business as this third of our business will be subjected to at least two years of uncertainty while things are being sorted out. So, if all goes really badly for my university, Brexit might cost me my job. Not to think of upholding pension reciprocity in decades to come, especially should I feel it will be better to leave country due to not feeling welcome anymore. This is not Project Fear – this is fear of things that threaten me at this very moment in time.
When you can’t win them over, join them
In my desperation not to be threatened by this, I am now applying for UK citizenship – to increase my security against punitive future policies against EU migrants. The threat of Brexit is right now turning c.3 million EU citizens’ lives on their head (and the countless UK citizens who love them), right now. This is not happening in an undecided post-Brexit world – actions taken in favour of Brexit are causing this upheaval at this very moment in my life, and those of others like me.
The worst thing you can do to someone who has always played by the rules is to change the rules halfway through the game – this is (hopeful) the middle of my life, and I have loved the UK for 40 years. My whole professional life has been built on the relationships built here. Brexit questions all of that.
‘But nothing will change for you’
Those are the weasel words I have heard every time I have spoken with a Brexiter whom I have told my story. They are weasel words because they are not backed up by anything – how do you know that nothing bad is happening to me? Aren’t you voting to halt EU migration? And also – have you not listened that I have told you that the threat of Brexit already has impacted my life negatively?
I can only presume that you are trying to make me feel better, because you empathise with me – or because you feel uncomfortable with me explaining your responsibility to you in something bad that is happening to me. I have yet to meet anyone to look me in the eye and say leaving the EU is worth the risk of impacting badly on my life. I would respect that, and expect it from someone truly honestly believing in their cause. But that honesty hasn’t been afforded to me by anyone who’s been telling me their voting leave – except that one older guy who already had cast his vote, and then said he wished he could change it after hearing my story. It may be a lost vote, but it did touch me.
I will be with you in that voting booth
So when you’re standing in that voting booth, remember me and those millions of others like me, who have helped and contributed over the decades. Remember if you vote to leave you will help turn my life upside down even more. You will endanger my employment; you will endanger my prospects of finding a new job should I need to; you will heap insecurity over my life and those that I love; you will make my work of helping young people into employment harder; you will make me question 40 years of loving the UK by telling me that I, as an EU immigrant, I am not wanted.
Follow your heart when voting, but I can only beg you to please not destroy my life in the process.
I wrote this blog post last Thursday morning and was hoping to publish it later that day. Due to the heinous murder of Jo Cox MP pretty much all campaigning that I’ve been involved in ground to a halt for a few days (except for the local UKIP campaigners who just soldiered on). My original post was driven by a lot of anger, which has now been hopefully transformed into a more solemn mood, while not having this tragedy impact my writing too much. I feel profound a sadness these days, although I have not given up hope. I still urge everyone to vote to remain – we’re better together than apart.