The European Union is a unique human project

EU citizens want to remain in the UK with their rights intact. Photo © Mick Yates.

Véronique Martin gave this speech at Bath for Europe’s Pulse of Europe on 13 May, 2018. 

Hello everybody and thank you for being here today. It’s really exciting to find myself surrounded by so many wonderful Europeans!

I feel very honoured to have been invited to speak here on this special Europe Day celebration. And I want to thank the brilliant people of Bath for Europe for their amazing work and dedication to fight the good fight for a fair, tolerant and open-to-the-world UK.

Don’t be fooled by my French accent, I am a proper Bathonian. I have lived here for over 28 years and have loved no other city, even the beautiful city of my birth Saint-Malo, as much as I’ve loved Bath. It is the place I have called home for more than half of my life. The place where my heart belongs. Yet since June 2016 I am no longer sure I will be allowed to go on with my life here after Brexit.

My whole life has been shaped by Europe.

I have been a passionate Anglophile from the age of 11.

I was invited to come here as a degree student in English with the very first Erasmus exchange in 1984. We were the guinea pigs of this amazing European project, that has since transformed so many lives and opened so many hearts and minds.

It was clear to us we were at the start of something big and extraordinary: the creation of a Europe of people.

I fell deeply in love with this country and with an English boy, who has now been my husband for 28 years. Here he is: I give you Miles!

In the past 30 years, I’ve acquired a PhD from a British university; I’ve worked, volunteered, made many friends, built a life – totally integrated.

I never felt like a migrant, I was an EU citizen at home in the EU.

I never felt like a stranger, I was part of the very fabric of my British community.

YET the Home Office has denied me, and tens of thousands of EU citizens like me, the right to permanent residency and therefore citizenship.

And, sadly, the post-Brexit “Settled Status” we’re being offered is no reassurance to us. Because it will not just ask us to REGISTER, in order to formalize our current residency situation. Instead, it will force us to APPLY (therefore be subjected to potential rejection), and PAY for a status that will remove many of our current rights, making us extremely vulnerable in our adopted home.

Seeing how hostile the Home Office is to foreigners in general and to us in particular since the referendum, I know I very well may become a second class citizen or even illegal after Brexit.

It means that I may have to leave my life of thirty plus years here, my world, my home and, worst of all, my beloved husband. And because he will have lost his Freedom of Movement with his EU citizenship, he won’t be able to follow me.

For us, and tens of thousands like us, it’s a genuine nightmare. And none of it is far-fetched as it’s already happening to the Windrush generation and to many thousands of British-Non EU families and couples: they’re the so-called “Skype families”, created by Theresa May’s inhumane “hostile environment”.

The limbo we’ve been forced into over the past two years is tearing us apart.

It’s destroying us and our deep love for this country.

Many of us have already left and many more are seriously considering leaving.

You see, the EU is not a mere financial or commercial arrangement.

It has given us, among many other things, a never seen before period of stability and peace. It has also given us a wealth of opportunities and a new sense of identity: the sense of belonging no longer just to a village, a town, a region or a country but also to a family of like-minded nations. Like the layers of an onion the EU has given us a wonderful wealth of complementary identities.

The European Union is a unique human project that has managed to bring old enemies together; that has encouraged them to get to know each other, work together, collaborate, feel at home in each other’s countries, become friends and even fall in love.

We are the result of that experiment, its living, breathing result, and home for us, EU27 citizens living in the UK, is here.

So, how are we supposed to react when we are now told by so many to go back “home”?

We’re not a mass of dehumanized migrants, as depicted day in day out by the right-wing press and the government. We are you, not them. Your neighbours, your colleagues; your doctors, nurses, plumbers, cleaners and teachers; we’re your family; we’re your friends.

My story is only one of 157 powerful and moving testimonies from EU citizens in the UK.

These testimonies were compiled in a not-for-profit book “In Limbo” that my Italian friend, Elena Remigi, and I have co-edited and published. And behind our book, there are many thousands of other stories; some of them from people who are too scared to speak out, too scared to stand up and be counted. We are also speaking for them.

“In Limbo” is our voice, but it is also a weapon: a powerful human weapon that speaks to its readers’ empathy and emotions.

It has already changed some people’s attitudes, and I really hope it goes on changing many more hearts and minds.

Please do read it and share it! You can buy it from us on Amazon (it is not for profit!).

Thank you so much for your support: we need it and we need you!

Long live the EU and long live Britain in the EU!

Véronique Martin

Véronique Martin and Elena Remigi co-edited the book In Limbo, available from Amazon.

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