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Europeans in the UK are a lot less worried about Brexit than you might think

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“For two years Romania and Bulgaria have strategically disposed millions of human power around the island. If the Government doesn't take control we'll all come here and the UK is going to sink under our combined weight. That's what's all about. The game is on!”

I’m quoting myself here. That’s what I posted on Facebook when the last news of Theresa May’s plans about negotiating Brexit and the art of triggering the now-so-widely-known Article 50 came out.

Okay, it may not sound serious - but it sounds as believable as the wave of news that’s been sweeping around in the last half month (or since June if we really want to be that sceptical).

Let us think for a minute. All we have so far are speculations. The truth is, there is no way of predicting what Brexit will bring to the people of the UK and the EU, and it will be a continuous process, legally set to go for up to two years.

Of course, there have been promises. Do we still remember that £350 million a week that was supposed to go for the NHS, but somehow turned out to be as real as leprechaun gold?

Or stopping the possible - yes possible, not certain - five million economic migrants that were to come from Turkey by 2030, once Turkey had been made part of the EU? Only, Turkey has not came any closer to becoming part of the EU in the last 40 years, since it was first offered membership for first time in 1963.

Immigration, or more specifically, limiting it, has been the spine of the Leave EU campaign since its start and now it seems to be the only matter discussed in the news and by the current British government. Not how much it would cost to leave the EU, or what will replace the Human Rights Act (British Bill of Rights, amirite?). It’s just immigration - questions on “when will THEY finally leave?”, “why are THEY still coming?”, “when are you closing the borders for THEM?”

And that is exactly what I’ve grown so tired of reading about and listening to and answering questions from my ever so curious British co-workers about. So, let’s try to explain, as much as possible what we know so far, as facts.

First, Great Britain has not left the EU yet. There was a referendum, which expressed the nation's willingness to do so. Then, there will be the eventual triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This will mean negotiations have started, but Britain will still be a member of the EU until the “official divorce” date. Triggering Article 50 will mean there is a firm decision to leave, but it’s not the act itself. So, we have first, the willingness (referendum), then the decision (Article 50), then the act (leave date).

Therefore as a European country the UK will have to keep to European legislation until officially out. Anything else would be considered illegal. Surprising much?

Last week news hit the headlines that Theresa May was poised to announce end of free movement once Article 50 is triggered. However, that would be a breach of the EU laws, considering they protect the right of permanent residence for any EU national in any member state. Or as we simply know it, open borders for all. Even if we consider ending the right of permanent residence as possible outcome in the next few weeks (highly unlikely having in mind the legal concerns coming with such a decision) there are still a few points that the British mass public seems to be missing.

1)   The three million EU citizens who came to the UK before Article 50 was triggered will still be on the island. They already have the right of permanent residence.

2)   EU citizens will keep coming. They might not have the right to stay permanently, but if any action is taken for them to be removed from the country that would most likely be after Brexit is over. Which gives them quite enough time to “steal some jobs”.

3)   Theresa May has not yet confirmed the secure status of the EU citizens already in the UK. They’re said to be the “bargaining chips” for securing the right of UK citizens who are already in Europe to continue residing there. For some reason this has been interpreted as something almost impossible. It is not. It is most likely that the EU will grant permanent residence to the UK people already there. It is not the EU that wants to stop British nationals coming and wants to kick them out of the union. So why is unnecessary tension created? Simple as it is, the UK is not going to deport three million people.

4)   As much as immigration from Bulgaria and Romania has increased for the UK, there are considerably less people coming here than to Germany and Spain. The UK has never been a number one destination of choice, contrary to what the media here makes you think.

With all said above I think one of the most undermined factors is the mentality of those feared migrants coming from Eastern Europe. As much as the British government is worried over the record numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians fleeing to the country, what they’re missing when trying to bargain with their rights is the situation those people are coming from and how they were raised.

When you come from a country when the average monthly salary is a bit above £300 you learn to survive. For all those people moving away to work low-paid jobs it hardly matters whether it is in the UK, or Spain, or France. If they have to, they’ll move. There are two main reasons people would come to work here and, as surprising as it might sound, it’s neither the benefits, nor the nice weather. It’s first the value of pounds when converted to our own currency and the overall easy to learn language.

Now, with the value of the pound down, pretty much reaching the value of the Euro, less and less Eastern Europeans are considering the UK. Yes, the numbers say immigration from Bulgaria and Romania has increased following the Brexit vote, while immigration from A8 countries decreased. This however, has little to do with the vote. It is a natural process, with Bulgaria and Romania still being quite new to the open job market (the numbers of A8 nationals moving to the UK continued increasing between 2004 and 2011). They are not specifically immigrating to the UK, they’re just immigrating to Western Europe. As for the citizens from the A8 countries, they have started to leave as whoever hasn’t secured a living in the UK already is now using the chance to flee while still early, before the biggest wave of leavers hits the low-paid job market in the remaining EU countries.  

But the overall feel is not one of being scared, as the UK government might think. In Facebook groups such as Poles in UK and Bulgarians in London the matter is discussed quite pragmatically. Some people even suggest it might be for good - they are convinced that what are now tax-paying workers will just turn into illegal immigrants, working in worse conditions but in fact earning more, as they wouldn’t pay taxes. Judging by the tone of the comment sections, one can almost conclude such a turn of the events is almost anticipated.

Could this be true? Time will tell, but it is certainly not impossible, having in mind the necessity of cheap workforce and the existing conditions and payment in some factories and cleaning companies. It is not hard to imagine that once borders are closed Britain will have a rising problem with illegal immigrants.

Before the British government proceeds using EU citizens as bargaining chips, one of the most important aspects that should be taken in mind is whether those chips are of any value. You can’t bargain their right to stay, if they don’t plan to anyway. And you can’t bargain their right to legally work in the country if they’re not concerned with it.

In fact, what I’d consider important now, having grown up in one of those Eastern European countries, is for the UK to start developing a system that focuses on preventing illegal immigration. If such a system is not effectively working when the UK closes its borders and introduces restrictions on the right to work in the country, I am afraid the UK could face a lot bigger problem than the one currently in existsance.

 

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