Relegating European Union migrants to second-class citizens would be economically unfounded and ethically dubious, writes Fabian Women’s Network chair Ivana Bartoletti
Much has been said in recent weeks about the rights of European citizens who have made Britain their home, and I want to spell out why Theresa May’s offer is fundamentally flawed.
First, I do not want my fellow European citizens to be on a special record or having to carry a special identity card. European Union citizens should not have to prove that they are entitled to rights they have enjoyed for many years and on the basis of which they have come to this country in the first place. It is also the basis on which they have made a great contribution to the United Kingdom.
Second, the deal should be properly legally enforceable in the future should a UK government renege on the agreement at a later date.
Third, family reunion rights should be preserved and, with regards to this, I am also thinking of the mixed couples (UK/EU) who have built their lives together, their joint dreams and aspirations in this country in the belief that they would be able to stay here for a number of years and then move to their spouses’ home countries. What is going to happen to those dreams, those plans based on equality and shared experiences? I fear it will wreck families; we all know the power of personal roots as well as of the obligations towards elderly parents.
Fourth, EU citizens should not be deprived of the right to vote in the local elections. Without addressing all these points, the government is turning our colleagues, friends, spouses and partners into a sub-category of second-class residents.
When I came to Britain in 2007, I arrived, found a job in the National Health Service and settled with my family. My son started school in Hackney and I enrolled at London Metropolitan University for a postgraduate degree in human rights law. I had left behind a full and interesting life in government and European politics, but was happy and excited to start again.
Shortly after my arrival, I asked Diane Abbott, my member of parliament, to meet with me as I wanted to know how I could get involved and give back to Britain what Britain had given me. I will always remember what Diane said to me: ‘Join the Labour party, there are the local elections in a few years and you can vote and stand if you want.’ This advice changed my life.
Voting in the local election helped me build my sense of belonging to London, and to the Labour party. Since then, I have convinced so many during the European and Greater London Authority elections to register and to vote: many European citizens still contact me to say that thanks to that they are now more active in their community. Many have joined Labour, the Fabian Women’s Network and you will find quite a few on our mentoring programme.
Taking the right to vote away is the wrong thing to do. Removing it from those who have come here on the basis that they were citizens of Europe and therefore able to shape our common future is a blow to democracy, and betrays those British values that have attracted so many to the UK over so many years and have allowed this country to thrive.
I personally feel saddened and offended. Many years after my decision to stay in the UK, I decided it was time to become a British citizen. To celebrate my citizenship ceremony, I held a party. Sadiq Khan came along and we celebrated not only the diversity of Britain, but the journey many of us make in the modern world.
We should cherish this openness, and be proud of it. I am devastated to see that we are recklessly going in the opposite direction, with humanity and openness being replaced by an economically unfounded and ethically-dubious Brexit approach.
Ivana Bartoletti is chair of Fabian Women’s Network. She tweets @IvanaBartoletti
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