33 days since Brexit
Germans always seem to be asking me what I think of Brexit. I think the picture says it quite well, but as a copywriter, I know words can fill in a few blanks.
Unfortunately, on 31st January 2020, Brexit happened. In spite of all our efforts – mine, many Brits and EU citizens both back in the UK and right here in Germany and the rest of the EU, it happened. That includes the efforts of specific citizen rights groups, such as British in Europe, British in Germany, and our sister organisation for EU citizens in the UK: the3million.
As I told Berlin and Brandenburg broadcaster rbb on Brexit Day, I’m a strong believer in the EU. I’ve lived, studied, and been self-employed in three EU countries (if you include the UK, and as it was a member when I lived there, I do). I didn’t want the UK to leave. I also didn’t want that younger generations of Brits on that large and lonely island would no longer benefit from the same opportunities I did – opportunities that were critical to my success as a translator and copywriter. It’s a travesty.
Boris Johnson in Number 10
Early in the morning of 14th December, 2019, I had a nasty shock: Boris and his Conservatives had won a strong majority in the national elections. But what many outside the UK don’t always understand is this: he achieved it with just 46% of the votes. As we Brits well know, only 53% voted for parties who wanted to give us, the people, a second chance to vote on our future. The informed people’s vote that was robbed of us first time around. But it wasn’t so. And even stats like this don’t tell the full story – every Brit knows that first-past-the-post makes your vote meaningless in many areas, so didn’t bother to cast a vote at all.
Memories of 2016
This shattering shock followed by deep mourning was something familiar to me. It wasn’t unlike how I felt in 2016, as it became clear on the day after the referendum, 24th June 2016, what the British people had done to themselves. I was in the UK at the time – in Brighton. After all, I spend a minimum of six weeks every year in my country of birth, and 2016 was no exception. I still remember the horror, fear, and worry that overwhelmed me on my train journey to my parents’ home in Cornwall, how I had struggled to conceal my tears on the platform at Reading and Exeter St Davids. Sometimes others were crying, too. Others were completely cold. Did they vote for Brexit? Did they do this to me? And that’s how the ongoing political divisions that have torn up the UK began.
After our narrow defeat, I mourned with my fellow remainers, the 48%. But we also joined forces, and began our fight against Brexit. More online at first, I quickly found like-minded souls on Twitter or in various Facebook groups. With stars in our profile photos, #FBPE (follow back, pro Europe) hashtags, or the simple word “European” – however we wished to identify ourselves, we found each other.
The first demos started shortly after the referendum, but I was in Cornwall at the time. There were many large demos against Brexit before it finally came to pass. For my part, I attended the Unite for Europe march on 25th March 2017, The People’s Vote March for the Future on 20th October 2018, the Put It to the People March on 23rd March 2019, and finally the Let Us Be Heard march on 19th October 2019.
Brits in Germany together
I got to know many of my fellow remainers over this time period, ultimately making many new friends and contacts. One of the more notable groups I became involved with is British in Germany e.V., based in Berlin. We still hold regular meetups, mostly organised by my friends Rachel and Sara, but also supported by Aaron, Daniel, myself, and other regulars. These meetups, known as “Stammtische” in German, provide a welcoming environment to discuss the latest goings on, let off steam, and support each other on both an emotional and practical level.
As Boris Johnson was proroguing Parliament back in the UK, I joined forces with others in Berlin to organise Berlin’s own Stop the Coup demo at the Brandenburg Gate on 7 September 2019. It was the biggest demo against Brexit and the British Prime Minister’s undemocratic behaviour outside of the UK. Many people got involved, including many members of British in Germany e.V., but also various people found on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’d like to read more about the Stop the Coup demo in Berlin, click on the yellow button below:
It was a crazy week, which I was only able to manage at all by virtue of being self-employed. The week that followed was equally busy. After that, I was completely exhausted, and briefly came down with something. My clients were incredibly understanding, but everything has to get done eventually.
Like any good love story, this romantic event had a stressful and serious side. As some of you may know, I married my German then-boyfriend René back in September 2016. Now just to clarify something from the start: It wasn’t a sham wedding by any means! We’d been speaking about getting married even before the Brexit referendum. We’d been together four years even before the referendum, and were already living together. But we did indeed have to hurry along the wedding, as at that point, it didn’t look like I’d lived long enough in Germany to get German citizenship before Brexit Day without it.
… Becoming a German citizen
And prior to the introduction of special German legislation to provide some certainty during the transition period (Brexitübergangsgesetz), it wasn’t clear whether I’d be able to become a German citizen before Brexit, and therefore become a dual citizen of both countries. The problem is that if you want to become German, Germany normally only allows dual citizenship if your other citizenship is of an EU country, or of countries where it’s very difficult to give up your other citizenship. The latter doesn’t apply in the case of the UK. Had I not got married to a German citizen, I would have needed to have been living in Germany for six years. That time would have come in Autumn 2018. But back then, nobody could promise me that I’d be able to exercise this ‘privileged’ route to becoming a German citizen with just six years’ residency. I’d have to prove an ‘exceptional’ level of integration into German society, and I had no idea if my achievements would be enough. In reality, this route was in fact later offered to me based on my German language skills, or maybe just sympathy. But by then, we’d prepared everything for the other route: becoming a German citizen via marriage to a German spouse.
After years of stress, worry, fear, and unbelievable amounts of paperwork, we’d finally done it. Our patience had paid off. In February 2019, I finally became a German citizen! And I managed to hold onto my British passport, too! However, I’m somewhat sad that I didn’t manage an entire year as a double EU citizen. Because that really would reflect my strength of feeling…
And how do I feel now?
Brexit Day was a few weeks ago now. But on a personal level, I think and feel the same way I did back in 2016, just with one not-so-minor difference: I’ve become a German citizen, which means my future in Germany is secure, whatever happens next. But Brexit is still causing me stress as I worry about my future. I’m still British, after all.
How about just moving back to the UK?
I’m an only child. My parents and husband have different passports. How about simply moving back and forth between Germany and the UK for six months at a time? For me, that’s not a problem. I can visit or move over for as long as I like, for however long I like. But the same doesn’t apply to them. So what happens if my parents suddenly need care? There’ll be lots of paperwork and considerable costs, for a start. We’ll have some trouble getting a visa in the first place. According to experts, self-employed income is barely taken into consideration – if at all – and especially not when generated in Germany. This also affects low-earners, as you have to provide evidence of income of at least £18,500, and not just for the new job, but also for the past 12 months you spent in Germany.
It’s not very easy …
According to the latest information, I’ll need to keep around £62,500 in my account at all times. And I can’t touch it, either – at least, not if I might want to move to Cornwall to be with my parents at any time in the next six months – and take my husband with me. This applies even in cases of emergencies, so if my parents should suddenly require long-term care, for example. This is a burden I will have to carry until the current UK immigration law is changed, both my parents have died, or whenever the UK rejoins the EU.
But there’s another approach: I can, of course, accept my situation. This is what a German-British friend who works in another sector has had to do. She earns less, and she and her German husband have less in savings, so she knows she doesn’t have many options. She already knows that at some point she will have to deal with one of the most stressful and traumatic events of anyone’s life alone, without her husband.
Shit happens. Brexit happened.
But life goes on. I will retain my close connections to my country of birth, however hard it may be sometimes. In the past, I used to talk about my husband and I moving over as a matter of “when”. It’s since become a matter of “if”. IF my husband is welcome. IF the Brits can elect better, more tolerant government with just a modicum of empathy and basic morality.
Right now, all that’s up in the air. Right now, I am just happy to be living in Berlin as a German citizen. Together with my German husband, my good friends, and wonderful clients, I look forward to enjoying a more optimistic future – somewhat further removed from Brexit.