A slightly late 2019 New Year roundup

I had meant to post this back in January, oops. Still, it’s never too late to say Happy New Year, right?

Until yesterday it had been over 12 months since my last New Year’s roundup, and about 7 months since my last post on this blog. Not that nothing Brexit-related had been happening. Rather, most of it had been too tedious and frustrating to bother writing about. Yes, I may have been suffering from that new syndrome called ‘Brexit fatigue’.

In previous episodes of The UK…

My last post of 2018 marked David Davis’s resignation. Ah, happy times… Since then, Boris Johnson has also resigned (good riddance, though I’d have preferred to see him fired!) and Dominic Raab has both entered and exited the role of Brexit Secretary, to be replaced by Stephen Barclay (who?). In December, Theresa May dithered over putting her Withdrawal Agreement to a vote, and then postponed it to January, only to suffer a crushing defeat in the Commons. She then won a motion of no confidence, in which the same people who had sunk her Deal decided she was still the best person for the job. In normal times, all of this would be a national crisis. In Brexitland, this is par for the course.

The Dutch news reporting on Theresa May’s ‘slag’ or ‘blow’ in parliament.

Heroes or Traitors?

At the time of writing, the first pebbles of what may turn out to be a defection-rockfall have started to tumble. Eight Labour MPs and three Conservative MPs have left their parties, among them my own personal political heart-throb Anna Soubry (Anna for PM!) to sit as an Independent Group in parliament. Whether this comes to anything, I don’t know. If enough Tory MPs quit (i.e. 7) then the government will fall. However, I doubt any Tory MP wants to be known as the defector who collapsed a Tory government, so who knows if that will ever happen. I am intrigued, but not hopeful.

Meanwhile in Brussels

So where does this leave things in Brussels? Up in the air, is the best answer. Last month, the Commissioner for personnel held a meeting with all UK employees of the European Commission. The message was largely reassuring: the majority of them will be allowed to stay. This is because most of them have been here for years and years, and have permanent contracts. Their chances of promotion will be negligible, but they will not be asked to leave.

The situation is less clear for newer members of staff like me, who do not hold a permanent contract. For UK employees on a contract like mine, a decision will be taken in each case on whether the individual staff member will be allowed to stay, based on the individual merits of the staff member. While the Commission encouraged its Directors to ‘show generosity’ when making such decisions, there is no obligation to keep UK staff members and no indication whether ‘generosity’ will be shown in all cases.

Deal or No Deal?

The point at which decisions on UK staff will be taken depends on whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal. If there is a deal, the future of affected UK staff will be decided at the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). If there is no deal, decisions will start being made on Brexit Day, i.e. 30 March 2019, i.e. in a month’s time. This means that if there is a no-deal Brexit, I could be out of a job before the end of the year.

And then what? I have not been in Belgium long enough to receive permanent residency. Will I be allowed to work at a normal company as a non-EU national? And if I don’t find a new job fast, will I be allowed to stay in Belgium at all? Yesterday’s Q&A with the British Ambassador was not exactly reassuring on any of these matters.

Three ex-Tories. It’s never too late to be a hero!

But, in the end, what can one do. Like most people involved with Brexit, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’ll hunker down and hope for the best. Happy New Year!

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Q&A with the British Ambassador

Hello again. On Wednesday 20 February, I attended a Brexit Q&A with the British ambassador for UK citizens living in Belgium. As Theresa May was also in town at the time, it was kind of Her Excellency Ms Alison Rose to take the time to come and see us. Or perhaps she was desperate for an excuse not to be at the embassy when Theresa arrived.

‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’

I’m not sure what the purpose of the meeting was. It certainly wasn’t to reassure us that everything would be fine. If anything I left the Q&A feeling rather less reassured than I had been when I walked in. Perhaps the main purpose was simply to show that the embassy was doing something.

Also present was a delegation of suited plonkers from DExEU sitting down the front of the auditorium, who stood up to smile at us at the beginning and then said nothing further for the rest of the evening.

Alison Rose took questions on citizens’ rights, employment, driving licences, residency and travelling with pets. She made it clear that UK citizens would not be able to move to another EU country as easily after Brexit as we could now. All of which we already knew, but it still hurt to hear it.

Waiting for the Ambassador to arrive. The meeting was in the ING Marnix building.

I got the chance to ask a question about being made redundant. What would happen if, say, I were to lose my job because of Brexit? Would I be entitled to unemployment benefits? Would it be harder to find another job? Would a period of unemployment affect any future application for permanent residency or citizenship? Alison brushed off the question. Most of this was in Belgium’s hands. She only had anecdotal evidence that yes, finding a job would be harder post-Brexit. Cheers, Alison.

It is easy when watching the British political news to see Brexit only as an abstract concept. The cut-and-thrust of the House of Commons, the dashes to Brussels to thrash out deals… But sitting in the auditorium that evening, it brought it home again just how many tiny, soul-destroying and bureaucratic ways Brexit is screwing things up for so many people. From work permits to travelling with pets to agonising over whether to take out another nationality (if eligible)… My overall reaction was a mix of outrage and sadness that anyone, any of us, should have to be thinking about any of this at all. It is all so utterly, frustratingly pointless.

Anyway, there were free sandwiches and cava at the end, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad.

Sandwiches and cava. At least the evening wasn’t a complete waste.

R.