Brexit: A Case of Mid-life Crisis?

It occurred to me the other day as I was thinking about Brexit (as I often am) that Brexit is not unlike a case of mid-life crisis.

Britain, everyone’s favourite former imperial power, had been in a marriage for some time now, from which the spark had gone out. It is a problem that probably occurs in many marriages. And most married people will probably suffer a bout of existential angst, before deciding that on reflection sticking with a secure, comfortable (if no-longer-sexy) marriage is probably preferable to casting oneself once more upon the world of dating, with the risk of rejection, loneliness and dying alone being chewed by Alsatians, while the rest of the family gets on with their lives.

52% voted for spinsterhood and Alsatians.

The UK is the husband who, in his forties, flexes his saggy pecs in the mirror and says to himself “you know what, I’m still fuckable”, and then ditches his wife and family, buys a leather jacket, and starts hanging out in dodgy bars in the hope of picking up a younger model.

“I’ve wasted the best years of my life on you,” says Britain to the EU. “Trump, Duterte and King Salman of Saudi Arabia still want to fuck me, and they’re way sexier than you, so you can take this marriage and shove it!” Britain then straddles its motorbike and zooms off into the desert with King Salman on the back seat, whispering sweet nothings into its ear.

Liam Fox has butterflies in his stomach as he shakes hands with President Rodrigo ‘The Punisher’ Duterte of the Philippines.

It remains to be seen how this solo gambit will pan out. But the UK might well be warned that just because someone has their hand down your trousers doesn’t mean that they’re marriage material.

Following the established pattern, the UK quickly starts looking up its former flames in the hope of rekindling what, through the prism of nostalgia, seem like the missed opportunities of the past. To this end, Philip Hammond went off to Southeast Asia to try to convince India that what we had in the past was really good, baby, and we can have it all again if you want it. We can call it Empire 2.0, I mean True Love 2.0, I mean Global Britain. We can have the strong and stable relationship we never had.

Theresa May eagerly clasps the strong and stable hand of President Donald ‘Grab em by the pussy’ Trump.

Needless to say, India told him where to go. India had moved on with its life.

And so the quest for new romances continues. Maybe the UK just hasn’t been hanging out in the right bars yet. Nobody said it would be easy, right? But true love is surely just around the corner…

“Come get me, world.” Yep, Britain’s still got it.

The only hope is that, when the UK comes grovelling back, bruised and humiliated by its unrequited romantic advances, the EU is prepared to give us a second chance.

R.

An Epistolary Spat

It is interesting to know that in this day and age politicians still indulge in the exchange of epistles. There have of course been some changes since Biblical times. Nowadays important letters invariably appear online rather than in print. Such was the case in this week’s spat between Donald Tusk and Justin Tomlinson MP.

Tomlinson and around 80 other MPs had taken it upon themselves to inform the European Council, or the Commission, or whoever else would take notice, of their outrage that the EU seemed ‘worryingly indifferent to securing reciprocal rights for our and your resident citizens’. This, they felt, was causing ‘anxiety and uncertainty for the UK and EU citizens living in one another’s territories’. An interesting argument, Mr Tomlinson; thanks for bringing it up. I will address it with the following points.

Justin Tomlinson MP - defender of my rights, I think not.

Justin Tomlinson MP – defender of my rights, I think not.

First of all, as a UK citizen (and currently very much still an EU citizen) living in an EU territory, I must presume that I am one of the people whose interests Mr Tomlinson is trying to defend. I should therefore like to point out to him that ‘anxiety and uncertainty’ are nothing new to UK citizens living on EU territory. I for one have been experiencing ‘anxiety and uncertainty’ ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union. Indeed, my levels of anxiety and uncertainty were markedly lower before 24 June 2016. Furthermore, I am very sure about who I blame for my current state of uncertainty, and it certainly is not the European Union.

Secondly, Mr Tomlinson et al. express concern at the EU’s ‘worrying indifference’ towards the rights of the EU’s resident UK citizens. I wholeheartedly agree that there has been an overabundance of ‘worrying indifference’ regarding the question of Brexit; however, I was (and am) far more concerned about the worrying indifference that the Leave campaign, and ultimately the British electorate, showed towards not only the safeguarding of my rights as a UK citizen abroad, but also towards issues such as Northern Ireland’s border, the value of the pound, and various other looming calamities. Therefore I do not think it is the EU that has shown the most callous indifference.

As I’ve written before: prior to Brexit, my rights as a UK citizen on the European mainland were settled. Now, they are very much in question. This is a state of being which was brought about solely by the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016. The EU has not thrown my rights, nor the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, into question; British voters have.

Thankfully Donald Tusk has pointed this out. On 29 November 2016 he wrote a reply to Tomlinson et al., and asked ‘Would you not agree that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit?’ The UK has put itself, and its citizens living abroad, into the situation in which we now find ourselves. I do not believe the EU owes the UK anything over Brexit, and is rightly concerned about the rights of its own citizens living in the UK. The MPs who wrote the letter seem unhappy that UK citizens abroad will be used as ‘bargaining chips’; but let us not forget that it was our own Secretary of State for International Trade who referred to EU citizens in the UK as ‘one of our main cards’ in the Brexit negotiations. We were not bargaining chips before 24 June.

It is the recklessness of the Leave campaign, the results of the vote on 23 June, and the embarrassing actions of the Conservative government since then that have brought the EU’s internal emigrants into this state of anxiety and uncertainty. Any attempt to shift the blame for this onto the EU is duplicitous and shameful.

R.

What Will Happen to UK Employees of the EU Institutions?

Last week it was reported that a large number of UK citizens living abroad have applied for the EU nationality of their host country. This was no doubt fuelled by signs from the Conservative government that the UK is seriously thinking of leaving the Single Market.

This is an issue of great urgency not least for UK citizens currently working at the EU institutions. The Treaty on the European Union sets out the following stipulations for employees in Article 28 (a) SR:

« an official may be appointed only on condition that he is a national of one of the Member States of the Union, unless an exception is authorized by the appointing authority (…) »

By the time Brexit comes into force sometime in 2019 (perhaps), UK citizens will no longer be nationals of an EU member state and will no longer fulfil the requirements of Article 28. So what will happen to them?

Maybe somebody still wants us...

Maybe somebody still wants us…

The short answer is: nobody really knows. But the general feeling that I have got during my month in Brussels is that British employees will either have to gain another EU nationality, or be made redundant with a handsome severance package. Probably many people who have made their career at the EU Institutions will have been living in Brussels long enough to apply for Belgian citizenship. But no doubt there are also many who are not eligible.

The EU clearly thinks that naturalisation is the best option. In September the Council held a conference on British nationals at the EU Institutions. You can watch a shaky video recording of the conference here. (Why not see if you can become the 300th viewer!) The main thrust of the EU’s message was along the lines of “Don’t worry, Brits! This is how you become Belgians.” Belgium requires 5 years’ residency before granting citizenship. The many British stagiaires who have just arrived in Brussels with an eye to getting a job will therefore not be eligible for Belgian citizenship by the time the UK leaves the EU.

There was recently a glimmer of hope from Germany, however. Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SDP (the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition) urged Germany to grant fast-track citizenship to young Brits living in Germany. (Why oh why did I ever leave Berlin??) Since UK citizens aged 18-24 supposedly voted 70% in favour of Remain, certain politicians in Germany felt that these people should not have their European futures closed off from them by older Leave voters. However, when the issue was debated in the German parliament, it was met with stiff opposition.

Save us, Sigmar!

Save us, Sigmar!

It is understandable, really. Germany’s Turkish community has long faced barriers to naturalisation, and Germany is already trying to integrate more refugees than any other EU country. Why should Britons be given preferential treatment? In any case, this is of little use to UK citizens who are currently based in Brussels.

And yet, never one to give up hope, I made my own enquiries with the German embassy in Brussels. I emphasised my time spent in Berlin, my fluent command of German, my European career, and my lasting ties to Germany. None of this was of much interest to a certain Herr Zeiler, who replied with the following:

“eine Einbürgerung von im Ausland wohnhaften ausländischen Staatsangehörigen ist äußerst selten und regelmäßig nur bei Vorliegen eines besonderen öffentlichen (staatlichen) Interesses möglich. […] Anhaltspunkte für ein derartiges besonderes öffentliches Interesse vermag ich Ihrer Zuschrift nicht zu entnehmen.”

Disappointing but not surprising.

This leaves only the option of citizenship through marriage. Time to call in a few favours…

R.

In the words of Tina Turner, 'What's love got to do with it?'

In the words of Tina Turner, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’

Visit to UKREP

Welcome back! It has now been over three weeks at the Commission, and the list of conferences and networking events is growing ever longer. For example, today we went to the offices of UKREP. UK trainees from all EU Institutions were invited for an afternoon of presentations, quizzes and hobnobbing at the UK’s EU embassy. To start with, here is an insider tip: UKREP is not pronounced “UK Rep”. It is pronounced “ukrep” – as in “uck-rep” – which is an acronym crying out for vandalism.

The auspicious premises of (f?)uck-rep in all their glory.

The auspicious premises of (f?)uck-rep in all their glory.

I can’t provide too many juicy details, as we were all sworn to secrecy. But we were assured right at the start that, despite what some of our European colleagues might suggest, Brexit is definitely going to happen. This was met by gasps of shock from the trainees. Those looking for reassurance (or ‘crumbs of comfort’ as one trainee put it) were to be disappointed.

The general feeling I got was that most of the staff there quite understandably were Remainers who now grudgingly have to work on Brexit. We all felt sorry for one speaker who had devoted much of her career at Whitehall towards working on the issues she felt passionate about at the EU level. Only weeks after finally being seconded to Brussels to do her dream job, Brexit happened. The UK would no longer be playing an active part in her project, and instead of working on issues of EU-wide benefit, she was now having to help negotiate the UK’s exit. Another dream smeared greasily underneath the Brexit bus.

No crumbs of comfort. Only dollops of disappointment.

No crumbs of comfort. Only dollops of disappointment.

The UKREP offices have a red telephone box in them, and pictures of the Queen. The speakers were at pains to assure us that there were still opportunities for Brits in Brussels, and that we should network tirelessly to get jobs and make contacts. However, the mood was resigned. And all the while I could not stop my eyes drifting, ever so slowly, out the window and across the road to where a Saltire hung above the offices of the Scottish government’s representation…

R.

The iconic British phone box, similar to the model found on UKREP's premises.

The iconic British phone box, similar to the model found on UKREP’s premises.