On the eve of the EU referendum, I promised/threatened my friends on social media that, if Brexit were to win, they would keep hearing from me about it. It is a promise I’ve sadly had to keep. Real Existing Brexit is affecting many parts of my life.
Personally, I’ve had it easy. As a German, working in the UK since 2006, I’ve only had to assemble four ring binders of evidence over a 9-month period and the online version of the 85-page application form to get a Permanent Residence certificate – confirming a right that, as an employed person claiming Freedom of Movement, I hadn’t previously had to register in the UK. The application and legal fees came to just under £250. I have been spared Kafaesque traps that have ensnared unwary applicants. I’m all right for now; many EU citizens resident in the UK have had it worse.
My residence rights will expire if and when the EU Treaties do, on Brexit Day, but there will be an app to convert them into the lesser Settled Status in due course. Damocles’ sword still hovers: if the UK crashes out without a deal, we all will technically be illegal and subject to the Hostile Environment, until our status in UK law is regularised. But I am eligible to naturalise as a British citizen. It would feel natural: the UK has been welcoming and, even though I don’t do beer or football (shockingly for a German), I have adapted to other British ways. Several Leavers have assured me warmly that, when complaining about immigration, they don’t mean me. I’ve been lucky. Yet, in these Windrush days, I am not reassured.
At work, Real Exiting Brexit is not hitting yet, though it will. I teach biomedical sciences at the University of Roehampton. Our EU/EEA students, who inspire their British peers with their drive, are still able to come, for now, though they take up the offer in lower numbers. Only a few colleagues have, as yet, left our staff to return to more welcoming European shores. Future students and staff recruited after Brexit from the EU will endure the red tape that their non-EU peers have had to suffer for years; my Indian PhD student is obliged regularly to interrupt his precious research time to queue at a University office, solely to justify his benign, quietly productive existence to immigration authorities.
Spare a thought also for the biomedical research in which I have been involved. Even with the limited time I’ve had to spend so far to shore up my legal status, another research paper might have been written; multiply that by the number of EU researchers in the UK who have helped to make Britain an academic powerhouse in recent decades. For now, our technical staff can order biomedical research reagents from French suppliers inexpensively and without fuss; malfunctioning research equipment can be crated and sent to Belgium for repair, and a replacement kit lent to us, without customs formalities.
All this will become slower, more bureaucratic and expensive, on current plans, after 2020. Horizon EU funding is secure until 2020 – but what of future funding for research, once Brexit hits the state’s coffers? Some of my colleagues are in EU research and policy coordination networks: gone after Brexit. EU expertise and shared regulation on chemicals, legal and illegal drugs, biosafety, radionuclides, public health, clinical trials – also gone, to be duplicated nationally at greater expense and without the benefits of collective problem-solving and seamless market integration.
In my spare time, I sing in choirs, often led by accomplished British professional musicians whose work takes them to the Continent for gigs and workshops. Through those workshops, I have made friends with British expats abroad. Their lives and livelihoods as ambassadors of British culture abroad are now in a limbo far worse than mine. Not all had a vote in the referendum.
The EU has been a boon to Britain in ways many that many British people have not been able to see, let alone appreciate. Conversely, Brexit is starting to have unintended consequences, some of them even now known to too few Brits. If Brexit reverberates through so much of one nondescript and broadly secure middle-class existence in your midst, how might yours be affected?
The writer is a scientist and senior lecturer at the University of Roehampton, London, as well as an amateur choral singer. He lives in Putney. @robertbusch65