On Friday, on my afternoon off, I went to my local library to use their Android device to apply for permission to settle in the UK.
Ironically, I live in West Oxfordshire, David Cameron’s former constituency, and whilst that means that I am often surrounded by people in 4x4s viewing ‘affordable’ new homes starting at £580k, it is the kind of place that postcards of the Cotswolds often feature: yellow stone cottages with roses growing over front porches, rolling hillside, imposing country estates and so forth. It’s the kind of place many people dream of living in when they think about living in the UK.
Everyone at the library was extremely helpful and as I stood in front of a plain wall holding a flashing phone in front of my face to scan my features and prove my identity, it suddenly hit me. The enormity of what I have been avoiding for years: having to apply for permission to settle in a country that I moved to in 1997 and that I since have lived and worked in. Brexit. Gulp.
I moved to the UK when I was 17 because I am a huge Anglophile and I was looking to build a life in the places I dreamt of, I read books and listened to songs about. First in London and later in Oxford I got to know the country, the people and the culture and I love much of it. From joining a cricket club to raising money for British charities, supporting my local co-op and even researching London’s cemeteries for my PhD I have always felt at home here. At work I even represent a voice for the UK or UK education policy at times, I have been part of “UK trade and investment” missions and for over a decade I have been introduced countless times as “Maren Deepwell, from the UK”.
Whilst I have passed every language and cultural test you need to pass in order to apply for British citizenship and a couple of times came quite close to applying to become a British citizen, the cost involved and time without a passport was always a barrier and as a German and EU citizen I never really saw the need. It would have, in my mind, simply meant to swap being a German EU citizen with being a British EU citizen, and so the years passed whilst I paid British tax and national insurance, got a British mortgage and pension and married a British citizen. It never occurred to me that there would come a time when being a British citizen would no longer mean being an EU citizen and now I am glad I didn’t apply – I would have never willingly swapped being an EU citizen for being British.
Growing up as I did after World War II in Germany, the European project has always been a foundation of my identity. Whilst I can see that a structure like the EU brings with it many difficulties, the cultural, social and personal significance of being European for me is huge. Being born in a country which has Germany’s history helps to instil in you a respect for the past, a deep commitment to tolerance, community and cooperation no matter what.
I have a deep connection to British history and culture, read enough poetry and listened to enough music, to value the ideas and ideals embodied in this beautiful and unique part of the world. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s been my home for 22 years no matter what.
After signing every petition and voting in every election I was eligible to, whilst working hard to be a productive member of society, I now wait with a multitude of others, for the outcome of my application. I reflect again on how significant Brexit is, how much it puts into question so many aspects of my life and livelihood that I have had guaranteed as European citizen since I was born. The British Government is evaluating whether it wishes to grant me permission to remain and settle in my home – and that leads me in turn to consider my position, leaves me in a deeply unsettled place.
I don’t often publish this kind of post but this time I will. This is my domain, and I want to make my voice heard.