Testimonials (1-4)

Olaya de la Iglesia, Julieanne Long, Jayne Ellis-Bridge and Clarissa Killwick
May 4, 2017

Olaya de la Iglesia is a Spanish woman living and working as a physiotherapist in the NHS. Shocked and saddened by the referendum result, Olaya has experienced a steady rise in racism, xenophobia and outright confrontation from patients, friends and colleagues.

I am a Spanish national, I have been here 17 years, I am a physiotherapist working for the NHS. Since the 23rd of June I have been on an emotional rollercoaster but overall I feel saddened by how this political event, and the narrative that has been allowed to fester, has damaged my relationship with this country. This started with a spell of anxiety and depression that drove me off work for several weeks and has culminated in the decision for me and my family (British husband and children) to leave the UK and return to Spain next year.

The reasons for this are many. But one of the strongest is that what persuaded me to stay was the fact that Britain was an open, progressive country where you were not judged for the way you looked or your background. I deeply disliked how racist and judgemental Spain is as a culture. Now that has been completely lost. Something that only minorities might be able to understand is that there is an undertone of ‘British people first’, which not only makes you feel unappreciated but it undermines your sense of worth.

When you wake up one day to find out that half of the country you have made your home do not think you deserve to have a decent life here as much as they do, regardless of your contribution, the foundations that make you feel safe and secure are shaken. And that is a bell I do not think can be un-rung. When this continues for months you feel outright rejected and disenfranchised. Despite my hard work, since June my family and I have lived in a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. I have received an increasing amount of abuse from patients, friends (some which told me to not dare speak ill of THEIR country) and people in social media. I have even been told to learn to speak English properly and to leave if I don’t like it.

All I have worked for is in jeopardy and all I keep hearing is “Don’t worry, you will be OK, they can’t possibly ask you to leave”, or what is worse “The British people have spoken”. I do not want to raise my children in a country where demonization and abandonment of the poor, the vulnerable, the ‘different’ is seen as an acceptable part of the ‘real’ world. WHAT IS THE USE OF BEING ONE OF THE RICHEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD IF WE CANNOT EXTEND THE OPPORTUNITY OF A DIGNIFIED AND ENJOYABLE LIFE TO ALL?

Brexit has been the drop that made the river flood after years of austerity and increased inequality. And this is likely to get worse. Britain might indeed gain ‘back control’ of a country that no one wants to be involved with. Those on the leave side think that they can control the flow, and still be able to attract the best and brightest, but they are going to find that when they turn the tap on nothing will come out.

The best and brightest don’t want to spend their lives feeling unwelcome and unwanted as well as fearful that the day they can no longer contribute they will be disposed of like a broken appliance. We want security, safety, we want to feel appreciated and more than anything we want to feel like we live among peers, not workers at the service of others, our worth reduced to our ability to do what the British people want us to do.

WHAT CAN THE BRITISH PUBLIC DO? 5 THINGS!!

Challenge the narrative of the ‘people have spoken’.

This referendum was fought on lies and misrepresentations of the complexity of the problems Britain faces. And it was won on a minority vote of the population while excluding significant numbers of stakeholders.

What was sold and what is being implemented are 2 very different beasts. The government is aiming to curb immigration at all costs, despite the fact that the most frequent reason given for voting Brexit was to ‘gain back control’ of governance, not immigration control.

Educate to eradicate misinformation.

HAVE THOSE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS YOU HAVE BEEN AVOIDING WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

They have scapegoated us because it is an easier concept to understand than the effects of neoliberalist capitalism, systemic ideological austerity and mismanagement by the Conservatives.

Those that have put us in this position feel vindicated when they continue to speak unchallenged.

Keep sending messages of support.

We are bombarded with negative media, opinions and not enough people are coming forward publicly to challenge people passing negative comments. We need an opposite and equal reaction.

Look for us because we have gone underground.

We have been told so many times that we are panicking over nothing, that our concerns are not justified, or that we need to get over it because it was not our decision to make, that we no longer speak to British nationals about it. EU forums are rife with the anxieties and stories that we do not feel able to share for fear of mockery and belittling. You might not ‘see’ the problem, but it is there.

Keep pressing the powers that be to secure our status ASAP or to stop BREXIT.

If you wait much longer it will be too late. Many of us can’t sit here for 2 years waiting to see what will happen and we will leave to gain control of our futures.

Britain does not have to go ahead with this. If indeed the ‘ democratic will’ is all-powerful, those in power will need to listen to the people that disagree with the direction this is taking..

Protect Britain’s reputation as a progressive, fair and tolerant nation.

That is your biggest legacy and your biggest loss. That is the “Great” in Great Britain.

Hope that gives you a picture of my past, present and future. Let me know if it is of any use within your project. Thank you for your time.

Olaya de la Iglesia

 

Julieanne Long is a British woman who feels the loss of the European Union from both a financial and personal standpoint. Angry and frustrated by what she sees as the older generation having jeopardised the futures of the young in this country, she is appalled by the ever-increasing divide in British politics.

I have never known a time in my life when I have felt so depressed and angry for so long. I feel we are about to lose something precious as well as being poorer, both financially and in the ethos of togetherness within Europe.

A few days after the referendum I was working with a group of intelligent 16 and 17-year-old boys. They were very distressed by the result, one telling me “Old people have taken away our future.” Several were very angry that they hadn’t been allowed to vote, especially as they felt they were far better informed about the EU than a lot of voters (Daily Mail readers!).

My youngest son and his German partner and two-year-old daughter live in Germany. At the moment it is easy for us to visit each other and I love watching my granddaughter growing up, I shall be devastated if this changes.

My eldest son worked in IT in London, the company he worked for has recently been taken over by a bigger American company, they are in the process of shutting down their operations in London and just keeping the two branches in Europe going. My son has had to find another job.

One of my closest friends is Dutch and lives in the Netherlands. We often visit each other, I will be really upset if this is affected by bloody Brexit.

I was on the March for Europe last month, a brilliant day meeting up with like-minded people who love Europe. It brought tears to my eyes when people started singing ‘Ode to Joy’.

Brexit has caused no end of damage giving rise to racist attacks and right-wing football hooligan-like-mentality disgusting!

The government don’t have a clue what they are doing and Mrs May is intent on dividing the country still further.

I am appalled as to how we have got into this mess.

Julieanne Long

 

Jayne Ellis-Bridge is a 60-year-old British woman splitting her time between Liverpool and France. A retired consultant, she is immensely disappointed by the referendum result, and is saddened that “common sense” did not prevail. Worried about the effects of a Hard Brexit on the economy, in particular the housing market for British nationals living abroad, she wonders how “many more Jo Coxes will lose their lives to protest at cruelty and hatred.”

On June 23rd when voting took place I very naively thought common sense would prevail and people would recognise that this referendum had been called to appease the right of the conservative party. What I did not appreciate then was the level of anger in the UK stoked up, I believe, from the media and UKIP, and the ignorance of people that actually believed the lies that came from the Leave campaign. So here we are being pushed towards a Hard Brexit by an unelected prime minister who will not allow free debate in Parliament let alone elsewhere, who is trying to introduce laws which will change the fundamental issues of parliament and all the time is damaging the British economy and our status in the world. For me personally, I have just brought a house in France and had hoped to retire there. That now is probably not going to happen as my partner has terminal cancer. My son, who enjoyed the benefits of living within the EU and moved to Holland with his girlfriend, their future too now is under question.

More importantly, I see my country being torn apart, where people are being bullied and threatened for having voted remain, and hard-working people from the EU, who are contributing to our society, frightened to speak in their own language for fear of reprisals.

After the tragic death of Jo Cox, a woman who was an inspiration to us all, I hoped the rhetoric would stop but it got worse. These people make me ashamed of my country. Here in France, even though the news filters back here about how we are treating people, I have seen such kindness. I despair of reading on a daily basis about families and friends that have fallen out over the vote and all of this whilst the NHS and social services are falling apart.

What is truly appalling is seeing such good people here in France, who have lived, worked and paid taxes, being put through, at this stage of their life, such worry. How can they afford to return to the UK, when they can’t sell their houses and they can’t afford to pay for health treatment? They are not spongers or lager louts as the Mail & Express would show, they are retired, hard-working people, who deserve better treatment and respect. Instead, we see only last night the disgraceful behaviour of football supporters in Spain, we see politicians kissing up to brutal dictators and sucking up to Trump and his actions.

The world is in an awful place. The EU needs to transform and the UK could have had the opportunity to lead the change but, no, Mrs May has no concern for the people of the UK. She has denied the young people their future, she has ignored and patronised the 48%, which we all know is not a true reflection of the people that should have voted.

History will show what this government and the appalling opposition have done to our country and when Scotland & Ireland will break away, I truly hope Mrs May, Johnson, Fox and the rest of the liars can sleep at night. Sadly, how many more Jo Coxes will lose their lives to protest at cruelty and hatred?

Jayne Ellis-Bridge

 

Clarissa Killwick is a British woman living and working in the north of Italy as an English teacher. Concerned about potential increases in tuition fees for her son who wishes to study within the EU, she is stunned by the outpouring of hatred in the media and general public against European nationals living in the UK, and sees it as a regression of British values.

My partner and I, plus baby, upped sticks 17 years ago, leaving corporate jobs behind. We reinvented ourselves as English teachers and settled in, no, not in Tuscany, the industrial North of Italy. Migrants gravitate to where the work is… but we have a beautiful backdrop of the prosecco hills, and the Dolomites. Our son studies 4 languages at school, and wants to go to university in another EU country. We promote English, British culture and business every day, through our work, fund-raising events and voluntary activities in our local community. Close ties with the UK provide an important anchor in my life. Or so I thought…

It disturbed me that nothing concrete was said about what would happen to people like us, or all the EU citizens in the UK. Visiting family weeks before the referendum, I was shocked at the Leave campaigning, such as the threatening poster, proclaiming Turkey would be joining the EU. I sensed a strange disquiet and tension between people I’d never seen before. On 23 June 2016, alarmed that just 50% plus one vote could swing it either way, I willed people to get to polling stations in spite of terrible weather and train problems. It ended up as 52% but millions, including myself, had been denied a vote.

On 24 June, a British friend and I walked around in a daze, and she told me how she felt betrayed. I had the sensation of being catapulted into the beyond – that place inhabited by “citizens of nowhere”. It’s hard to convey being disenfranchised to those who haven’t experienced it – of having no vote, no voice and then, suddenly, no guaranteed rights. I felt further estranged by comments from UK friends and family, ranging from”well, you’re not affected”, “you’re overreacting”, “shut up, I’m fed up with Brexit now” to”you voted with your feet by leaving”; and that was just the Remainers!

People we spoke to here, in the aftermath and still now, were baffled by the seemingly mad decision. There are implications for them too: those worrying about friends and relatives in the UK; schools organising study trips (most Italians travel using identity cards); university students; adults hoping to work in the UK; small businesses supplying components to UK firms… not to mention the major export business of our area, prosecco. I found myself going round apologising to everyone and my British pride had turned to ashes…  Amazingly but characteristically, Italians have remained unstintingly kind to us.

Like thousands of others, we suffered a drop in income, thanks to some of our income derived from UK company pensions. In the longer term, I’m most concerned about being able to afford my son’s further education: UK savings had been earmarked for this. I need to plan now, and cannot wait two years. I’m angry too at the government’s insensitivity to others worse off than us, some of whom literally may not have two years, through being old and frail, experiencing financial hardship and now sick with worry… I’d like to see them helped first, but issues for us include:

. cost of further education: e.g. a degree course my son wanted to do in Berlin, €7,450 for EU students and €12,950 for non-EU students; the latter is beyond our reach

. recognition of qualifications

. future work opportunities: being multilingual, freedom of movement is fundamental for our son, and, to a lesser degree, for myself; my internationally recognised qualification will have less value without freedom of movement

. healthcare: if we have to pay for private healthcare insurance, this could tip the balance for us

. our UK state pensions: many are worried they’ll be frozen; this, if combined with a continuing weak pound, could also be a game-changer for us

I haven’t even begun to think about validity of driving licences, possible changes regarding inheritance… We enjoy our work so aren’t unhappy at the prospect of having to work longer, health permitting… Our worst-case scenario is being unable to afford to stay here or to return to the UK. This could be the case for thousands of others… Applying for Italian citizenship would solve only some of our problems. And why should I, and several million others, have the hassle and expense because of a decision we had no say in?

The Foreign Office, supposedly responsible for protecting British nationals abroad, appears to have abandoned us. It took them nearly four months to reply to me with a standard letter which made no mention of people whatsoever. I have also submitted evidence to a parliamentary select committee and contributed to various crowdfunds. Like others who’ve felt alienated, I’ve joined numerous social media groups and, in particular, an action group. We’ve worked hard over many months lobbying both members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords – the latter showing some sympathy, but generally to no avail. For the first time in my life, I took part in a march, mostly though to meet others like myself – by now getting used to being ignored! There are little chinks of hope, with positive signs coming from the European Parliament. Sad that British nationals had to go elsewhere for help…

Logically, if not legally, all rights should be maintained, with negotiations applying only to movement of people after departure date. I don’t buy the UK government’s stance that they want our rights secured before guaranteeing EU citizens in the UK; if they really cared, they would’ve given us all a vote! The horrible uncertainty that millions have been thrown into is, perhaps, more to do with attempting to keep the floodgates closed; anyone remember David Davis’s failed move, some time ago, to introduce a cut-off date? Incidentally, his close namesake, David Davies, MP for Monmouth, wrote to a British national in Spain saying: “You won’t be voting for us or anyone else in the UK again because you have moved abroad and decided to pay your taxes abroad. The referendum was a decision rightly taken by British citizens who live and pay their taxes in this country and I am not going to overturn it just because it might cause a small amount of inconvenience to a few people who long ago left our shores taking their money with them.”

Showing my age now… I’m reminded, with some irony, of the 1970s Homepride advert: “graded grains make finer flour”. Millions of us didn’t make the grade as equal fellow citizens, and many feel treated differently now. I was mildly shocked when my UK bank of around 40 years, on the phone, told me: “Well, it was your choice to move to Italy”! More disturbing was a Leaver who told me she’d have no problem with “expats” forced to return, as they’d be replacing those who were leaving! Anecdotal… but reflected in the significant percentage of people expressing the same view in a post-referendum poll. I’m angered and ashamed every time I hear about racial abuse and discrimination in the UK and, visiting London, witnessed verbal abuse myself unlike anything I’d experienced in 39 years of living in Britain.

Pernicious journalism has only got worse since I left the UK, and now infiltrates some of so-called “quality” papers too. I give one tabloid example. Ross Clarke, Daily Express, 15.10.2016: “Even Josef Goebbels would have been impressed by People’s Challenge… a bunch of wealthy expats who are trying to frustrate the will of the public… the voice of the villas in the vineyards… Ultimately, they will lose because the will of the people – the genuine people – will prevail. We didn’t vote to free ourselves… only to put ourselves under the yoke of Chianti-slurping expats and their expensive lawyers”. For the inured, this is quite tame; I cite this particular article because, as a contributor to the People’s Challenge, it’s talking about me. It is as dishonest as it is offensive. It’s because most of us are not wealthy with expensive lawyers that the media, unfettered by government, get away with this. Tired images of overweight Brits hanging around bars together, or on the beach, don’t represent most of us either. Just as EU nationals are depicted as takers, we are deserters – in reality, we are mostly contributors.

I can normally rub along with people who hold a different view but there have been too many erroneous, short-sighted assumptions and assertions – and the referendum crossed a line. Paraphrasing the words of Justice Salmon after the Notting Hill riots: people are entitled to think what they like but they can’t impinge on the rights of others. With my son’s future at stake, and many vulnerable people with little hope of a voice, I’m not going to let it rest. And contrary to what David Davies, Ross Clarke et al may believe, I do care what happens to the UK.

Clarissa Killwick

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