Brexit: a brief recap
In 1975, Britain held its first referendum on membership, in which 67% of the electorate expressed a desire to stay in the European Economic Community.
In 2013, as part of a political gamble for power, David Cameron promised a national referendum on European Union membership. This referendum was ultimately held on 23rd June 2016 and 51.9% of the electorate voted to leave the EU.
With the public debate being somewhat poor and contaminated by all sorts of ‘alternative facts’, and with the design of the referendum itself being lackluster (pitting two highly vague concepts of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ against each other), the Pandora’s box was opened.
Ever since that day, a nation that was once known for its attitude of stability, diplomacy, and moderation has become increasingly divided, volatile, and polarized. The traditional two-party system collapsed. For the past 3 years, the UK’s entire energy has been devoted to Brexit, and British politicians have had to learn the hard way the intricacies of the European project (something which they had refused to do for a long time). For proof, look no further than the fact that the UK was supposed to have left the EU by 29th March 2019, and more than half a year later is still a full member of the European club – struggling to secure yet another extension to its membership.
A soap opera of biblical proportions
If you are, like I am, an aficionado of politics and international relations, you may have spent the last years savoring popcorn and watching history unfold upon your eyes. You have watched David Cameron’s political bet backfire spectacularly, Theresa May’s deal see the biggest government defeat in decades (not once, not twice, but thrice), and Boris Johnson suspending Parliament, only to have the Supreme Court rule the suspension to be void and null of effect.
You have watched MPs rebelling against their own government and building cross-party coalitions; laws being passed to force the Prime Minister to request an extension of the UK’s membership in the EU; and that Prime Minister repeatedly threatening to de facto disrespect those laws. You have repeatedly thought that this saga could not get any wilder, only to have your expectations defied time and time again.
Life as an EU national in the UK
However, as entertaining as a real-life version of House of Cards may be for those watching in the continent and beyond, it is everything but fun for the nearly 4 million EU nationals residing in the UK.
The fact is, our livelihoods are very closely intertwined with the unfolding of this play. Guessing what comes next is no longer a matter of optional personal leisure, but a mandatory exercise of survival. Mocking the tea-loving version of Donald Trump is no longer amusing when you realize that, for all effects and purposes, that person is your Prime Minister.
Some can handle uncertainty better than others – but all of us need the basic assurances. The assurance that, no matter what happens, we won’t be kicked out of the country where we’ve decided to build our lives in. That we’ll continue to hold on to our job. That committing to a 1-year house renting contract is safe. That if the Government doesn’t reach a deal with the EU, we can continue to get the groceries and the medicine we need, instead of facing a run on stocks. That we feel we are welcomed residents and not temporary guests. That we’re part of a broader community, rather than pawns of a chess game.
Unfortunately, for an EU national living in the UK, those boxes have been hard to tick off lately. When in the other side of the Atlantic you have the leader of the free world ripping international agreements to shreds, and in your own nation you have a sitting Prime Minister unlawfully suspending Parliament and threatening to break the law, the most quintessential foundations of democracy are challenged. And when the fabric of society is stretched to that point, there is nothing you can take for granted.
For instance: in theory, EU nationals can apply to stay in the UK until 31st December 2020 if there is ‘no deal’, and until 30 June 2021 if both parties agree to a deal. In theory, if you get that status, you’re entitled to carry on living and working in the UK as if nothing had happened. But how can you be so sure that theory corresponds to practice when the Prime Minister does not even respect the basic principle of the rule of law?
That is precisely the kind of existential uncertainty EU nationals have been grappling with every day.
What comes next?
If Brexit were a drama, its climax would most likely be this upcoming Saturday, 19th October 2019.
This will be the day when we fully grasp the implications of the EU Summit, that will be held between the 17th and 18th October and decide the ultimate fate of the UK/EU relationship. It will also be the deadline of the Benn Act (which mandates the Prime Minister to seek an extension if he is unable to get a deal by then). It will furthermore be the first time the British Parliament seats on a Saturday since the Falkland War of 1982. And, finally, it will be the day of the People’s March, a protest demanding a second referendum.
With such an explosive cocktail of unprecedented happenings, what comes next is anybody’s guess. Will there be a deal or not? Will there be an extension or not? What will be the nature of an hypothetical extension? Will there be a general election? Will there be a second referendum? Will the Prime Minister break the law and be found in contempt? Will we get to the extreme situation of reaching the 31st of October and finding ourselves in a ‘limbo’, with the Prime Minister declaring the UK to be out of the EU, only to have the courts render that decision as void and null of effect days later?
Frankly, nobody knows. Not Boris, not Barnier, and certainly not me. The good (or bad) news is that we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.