All posts by thomas

Borders, ID cards and databases

Passport, please
Passport, please.
Different countries use different means to ensure everybody and their dog don’t just turn up and use their services (such as hospitals, schools or pensions).

Some countries – such as the UK – prefer to control the border but then have very few checks on the inside.

Other countries – such as many other EU countries – prefer to have an ID card of some sort that documents that the holder is entitled to access services.

And finally some countries – mainly Scandinavian ones, I believe – have a central database that keeps track of who can do what.

Of course most countries use a combination of these factors – for instance, when you use the Scottish NHS, they ask you for some personal details so that they can find your CHI number, which is the Scandinavian approach.

The UK approach is really nice once you’re on the inside, because you don’t need to carry any ID and in general don’t need to prove who you are all the time. The problem with it is that it depends on controlling the border, which just isn’t very easy these days. After all, any person who arrives legally – as a tourist, student or business person – can become an illegal immigrant simply by overstaying their visa. It also makes it almost impossible to have different immigration policies in different parts of the country (such as making it easier to move to Scotland than to England).

The other two approaches work much better in the modern world because being in the country doesn’t entitle you to anything per se. If you don’t have an ID card or a database identification number, you won’t be able to access non-emergency health care, sign your kids up for school, or do any of the many other tasks you do as a resident.

Schengen, the EU’s passport-free zone, to some extent depends on members using ID cards or databases so that gaining access to a country doesn’t entitle people to anything. And one might argue that this is also the basis for the EU’s free movement of people. For instance, Denmark knows exactly how many EU citizens have moved there and when, because they have to register for a database identification number as soon as they move there, so there isn’t the same feeling that the government isn’t in control of immigration.

It was thus quite interesting how the Leave campaign was so obsessed with controlling the borders. Unless they want to make it illegal to be a tourist, people will arrive, and some won’t leave again, even though they were supposed to. And of course maintaining the open border with EU member Ireland will make it impossible to keep out EU citizens (because they can at all times travel legally to Ireland).

The lack of ID cards or a database is also what is making life so difficult for EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit. It’s difficult to prove how long we’ve been here, and whether we actually ever ticked the boxes for being a legal resident. In many other countries, it would be an administrative piece of cake to find everybody who had been here legally for more than five years and send them a permanent residence permit, without any need for 80-page forms.

Much as I love the lack of ID cards and database identification numbers in Scotland and the rUK, I’m starting to think that what the Leave voters really wanted was a national ID card and/or a universal database, because that’s the only thing that would make it harder to be an illegal immigrant here.

Of course Theresa May’s solution works, too – namely to make the UK so unattractive and despised abroad, with a basket-case economy, that nobody in their right mind wants to move here. If she succeeds, immigrations numbers will fall below zero without any need for border controls, ID cards or databases. What a victory!

The future of English politics – and the Lib Dems

It’s now abundantly clear that English politics is a mess (to some extent this applies also to Wales, but not to Scotland and Northern Ireland because they have quite separate political systems):

  • Labour is split between the Corbynites and the Blairites, and although the latter are losing, they don’t dare start a new party because of the historical lessons from the 1980s.
  • The Tories are split between the Brexiteers and the “modernising” wing, but the latter have been used to being in power (like the Blairites), and they now have no idea how to regain command of the party.
  • The Lib Dems are down because they lost all their left-wingers due to the Coalition Government, so they’re now lingering on less than 10 percent in the opinion polls, which is a disaster under FPTP.
  • UKIP have achieved everything they wanted, so they’re collapsing.
  • The Greens are being held back by FPTP, and many of their natural supporters are quite happy with Corbyn’s Labour.

It’s quite clear to anybody who listened to the recent Brexit debate in the Westminster parliament that the Blairites, the Lib Dems and the Tory modernisers are quite similar, and they seem to agree much more with each other than the Blairites do with the Corbynites or the Tory modernisers do with the Brexiteers.

If Westminster used proportional representation, these people might feasibly form a new party together, but FPTP are keeping them in their old parties. However, even if the politicians are too feart to do anything, it seems the voters might be starting to change, by doing the only option open to them: They might start voting Lib Dem.

At least that’s what I think the Witney byelection shows. There was a 23% swing from the Tories to the Lib Dems, and Labour lost votes, too.

I don’t think the Lib Dems will ever regain their youthful left-wing voters, but perhaps they’ll souk up those Tory and Labour voters that are horrified by the way their parties have been taken over by the old radical fringes.

However, in the absence of large number of Labour and Tory MPs crossing the floor and joining the Lib Dems, this will be a slow process. The Tories will probably still be the largest party after the 2020 General Election, and I find it unlikely they will lose power until 2025 at the earliest, by which time Brexit will be done and dusted and practically irreversible.

I therefore don’t think this is anything that can possibly save Scotland from Brexit, and it’s all very speculative anyway. The only safe way for us to avoid the xenophobic-economic collapse that Brexit entails is to hold a new independence referendum soon and leave the UK madhouse.

I simply hope that England and Wales will slowly regain their senses once they’ve experienced the hard Brexit devastation and then start voting for a pro-EU party that will make them rejoin the EU, but this time as a constructive full member that leads from the front instead of being a girning passenger that never wants to do the same as everybody else. Maybe seeing Scotland being a positive and proactive EU member state from 2019 onwards will help them to see the folly of their ways. I really hope so.

Rye bread and salt liquorice

Danish rye bread and salt liquorice.
Danish rye bread and salt liquorice.
The Tories’ Brexit dreams are getting wilder and weirder by the day, as shown by yesterday’s dramatic story in The Telegraph: “British jam, tea and biscuits will be at the heart of Britain’s Brexit trade negotiations, the Government has said, as it unveiled plans to sell food to other countries to boost the economy.”

I loved @garydunion’s response on Twitter: “Is it just me or is it becoming really obvious that the Tories don’t know the difference between an economic strategy and a period drama?” Much as this is an intriguing explanation for their madness, I think the real answer lies in their provincialism, though. It’s clear they don’t understand the world we’re living in.

The thing is that we can all pine for specific products from home when we’re abroad, so when visiting family and friends in other countries it can often be a welcome gift to bring these items.

Tea, jam and biscuits is probably what the Brexiteers bring when they visit migrant expat friends abroad, so they assume these are universally sought-after delicacies.

However, having spent the first 30 years of my life outwith the UK, I can reveal that British tea, jam and biscuits aren’t that popular abroad – in fact, I think most markets have already reached saturation point.

Perhaps it’s easier to explain by imagining what would happen in Denmark adapted the Brexiteers’ economic strategy. The Danish culinary equivalent would be rye bread and salt liquorice. This is what a Dane would take to friends abroad, not butter and bacon.

So if Danish food companies tried to export mainly what they wanted to eat themselves, the Danish embassies would be busy trying to flog rye bread and salt liquorice to unsuspecting foreigners. “Don’t buy Danish bacon, buy our superior salt liquorice instad!” No, I can’t see it happening, either.

Why don’t the Brexiteers understand that the way to be a successful exporter is by selling what the customers want to buy, not to sell what you want for yourself?

The walled city state of London

I’ve been really puzzled by recent reports that the UK government is thinking about “making future payments worth several billion pounds to the EU to secure privileged access to the single market for City firms to continue trading across the continent.”

It’s all a bit vague, but as far as I know, the City of London depends on many parts of the Internal Market, such as financial passporting, the free movement of people (to allow key personel to move around the EU easily), the free movement of capital, and probably also being within the Customs Union. In other words, we’d probably be talking about something approaching full EU membership (albeit without voting rights) for the City of London – which is, of course, also why they’re expecting to pay a lot of money for it.

I can see several problems with it, however.

Firstly, I’m not entirely sure why the EU would agree to it. Most of the member states are probably already salivating at the thought of poaching valuable financial companies from London.

Secondly, I’m not entirely sure where they would draw the border. Many financial companies are located outwith the boundaries of the historical City of London, so surely they’d want to pick a larger area – perhaps even the entire Greater London area.

Thirdly, this only makes sense if the government is expecting the rest of the UK to be outside the Internal Market – otherwise there wouldn’t be any point in going through a lot of hassle setting this up. However, how is this going to work? If EU citizens can freely move to the City of London but need to go through passport controls to travel to the rest of the UK, how will this happen? Will the government build a wall around London?

I really cannot for the life of me see how this can possibly work. Are they perhaps just trying to calm down the City of London while they figure out how hard a Brexit they want?

The Red Tribe of Scotland

I thought I’d have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Red Tribe as being “made up of the 23% of voters who are pro-UK Brexiters [mnemonic: red as the cross on the English flag]”. Politically they’re probably most like to identify with the Tories or with UKIP.

From a pro-independence point of view, it’s the least interesting group because it’s so unlikely any of them can be convinced to support Scottish independence, especially when it comes with the prospect continued EU membership.

It’s worth noting that although they make up less than a quarter of Scottish voters, they have a majority south of the border (or at least they did at the time of the Brexit referendum). They also hold political power in the UK, and as the only tribe they have won two referendums in short order, which means they’re feeling confident and bullish.

And yet – they can also be angry and touchy, because they were in a minority for so long on the question of Brexit, and they’re fearful others will undo their achievements. Of course they hate the SNP leadership, who represents the polar opposite of their views.

The Red Tribe has won some temporary allies in the Yellow Tribe, who don’t really want a new independence referendum before Brexit is done and dusted, and their relationship with the Green Tribe is now rather uneasy, because these pro-UK Remainers can suddenly see the attraction of Scottish independence within the EU.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the Red Tribe decides to rebuild their relationship with the Green Tribe (for instance by opting for a softer Brexit) or whether they end up scaring them away by being far too extreme. Whether we get independence soon depends on the answer to this question.

Getting permanent residency as an EU citizen

I’ve been thinking about getting a leave-to-remain certificate and perhaps eventually a UK passport, but I’ve been put off by the paperwork (and the intrusiveness of some of the questions). I never actually worked out exactly what would be required and what it would cost, though. Fortunately, Olaya De la Iglesia (an EU citizen who’s married to a local and has kids with them, just like me) has done just that on Facebook:

The paperwork needed to get a permanent residence card.
The paperwork needed to get a permanent residence card.

So as an EU immigrant that has lived here for 16 years and is married to a Brit and has 2 British born children this is the amount of paperwork I have to provide to prove to the Home Office I have lived here for 5 years (nevermind the other 11!).

Some people are wondering why I am doing this. No, at this particular point I do not NEED to have this to stay here, but I have British children and I am worried of what is going to happen to us if I do not secure ‘right to remain’ before Brexit actually happens. Additionally if I become naturalised I get to vote in any future elections, and if we leave we have our options open to come back, for example to visit my husband’s family without the need for me to arrange extra paperwork because I am the only non-Brit…. hope that clarifies it.

This is to get a ‘residence certificate’, NOT an application of citizenship, and this step was introduced only in March 2016, prior to that you did not have to do this. I shall give you a list of the things I must send, they all have to be originals and cover the whole 5 year period.

  • Application form – 85 pages!!
  • Passport (current and any previous passports held)
  • Payslips
  • P60s
  • Employment contracts
  • Letters from employers confirming dates and wage
  • If self employed at any point bank statements
  • Proof of address – *at least* 2 documents for each year evenly spread throughout the year
  • Child benefit letters
  • Tax credit letters
  • Evidence of every trip abroad
  • Marriage certificate
  • Photos
  • Special delivery signed for self addressed envelope (if you want to ensure you get all this stuff back)

The kicker is I ALREADY DID ALL THIS IN 2004!! I have a residence permit that entitles me to indefinite right to remain, but apparently it is of no use now. I have to do this again… and after this I have to;

  • Do the ‘Life in the UK’ test – £50 + book £10
  • Apply for naturalisation – £1236 (+ £80 if you want to use the checking service)
  • Attend the citizenship ceremony – £80
  • Apply for a passport – £82.25
  • Add to that postage costs, time taken, possibly transport to council and checking offices…. Oh, and if you get naturalisation application wrong, they reject it, keep the £1.2k and don’t even have to tell you why it was rejected!

Someone might say they have tried to make this difficult… I wonder what you have to do if you have £5mil in the bank?

She’s also very helpfully has created a petition (although it’s currently getting checked).

I pointed out in my article on Bella straight after the referendum that the hassle associated with getting a leave-to-remain certificate was a major stress factor for EU nationals here, and that vague reassurances from the Scottish Government are less useful than getting some help with the process (given that Holyrood won’t be in charge of residency requirement till after independence).

Nothing happened, so I asked the same question in writing at Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting with EU nationals in Edinburgh. Here’s the answer I got:

You ask if the Scottish Government could establish a helpline or advice bureau to help EU citizens secure a right to reside. You will wish to note that the Scottish Government funds the provision of an Immigration and Visa Support Service (IVSS) through TalentScotland. The main focus of this service is on providing guidance, support and information on business immigration for Scottish based businesses and inward investors. In addition, their website also offers general information aimed at both EEA and non-EEA nationals.

The information provided by IVSS includes links to Home Office guidance about how EEA nationals can obtain residency documentation, permanent residency documentation and citizenship. This is available at:….

To be honest, I was rather underwhelmed by this answer. The problem is not finding the form you need to fill out, but getting help with the process. For instance, what to do if you – like me – haven’t kept a record of your trips abroad. Or getting your application pre-checked to ensure it doesn’t fail because of a typo.

Of course the very best solution (apart from Scottish independence happening before Brexit) would be for the UK government to issue permanent leave-to-remain certificates to all EU citizens who were resident here on the day of the Brexit referendum. If they’ve already realised they cannot chuck us out, I don’t see what they’d lose. Surely processing all these huge applications must be extremely time-consuming, and it’d be more rational to spend that time negotiating a better Brexit deal. Fortunately, some EU citizens have started lobbying MPs for this. Let’s hope they succeed.

Royal visits to cloud cuckoo land

Victoria, Bayswater, W2
Victoria, Bayswater, W2.
There’s a rather bizarre article in today’s Telegraph. I thought I’d give it a quick fisk for clarity’s sake:

The Duchess of Cambridge will become a “potent force” in Britain’s bridge-building with EU countries as Brexit looms, a former ambassador has said, as the Duchess prepares to visit the Netherlands this week. […] It is likely to be the first in a regular roster of royal visits to European countries by members of the Royal family as the Government deploys them to help “beef up” bilateral relations with individual EU member states.

OK, fair enough. I guess it’s a better use of her time than so many other things she does, although I’m somewhat sceptical how interested the Dutch public will be in a visit by the wife of a man who might one day be king. They’re probably more interested in their own Royal House.

The Netherlands is Britain’s third-biggest export market, after the US and Germany, accounting for seven per cent of all exported goods, or £27.7 billion. The UK imports £41 billion of goods from the Netherlands every year, making it the third-biggest importer after Germany and China.

Wow, that’s quite a trade deficit! I can see why it’d be useful for the British economy if we could export a bit more to them.

One recently-retired British ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The need for embassies to build bilateral relations has come back into play as a result of the Brexit vote. During our EU membership partners have been cultivated in Brussels by ministers, not in capital cities.

Odd. I wouldn’t have thought one needed to exclude the other. Has the membership of the EU perchance made the EU embassies a bit lazy?

“But that is changing and we need to start beefing up our bilateral relationships with EU countries. Those links need to become stronger and the Royal family is a very potent force in that exercise. “It would not surprise me if we see more trips to Europe by members of the Royal family because there are 27 countries and we will want to let them know that we haven’t left the scene.”

I really don’t get this. If the powers that be think that UK exports will increase after a visit by a member of the Royal Family, why on Earth haven’t they made them visit all EU states regularly for the past forty years? And if it’s been neglected because contacts between the relevant ministers of two countries are more useful than contacts between royals, shouldn’t the Prime Minister make her ministers travel the World non-stop rather than relying on the Countess of Strathearn?

Royal visits are undertaken at the request of the Foreign Office, following invitations from host countries for the Queen or other members of the Royal family to pay a visit. Strengthening trade links with countries such as India, China and countries in the Middle East is one of the stated goals of royal tours. Until now, there has been little need for visits to European countries because of Britain’s membership of the European single market.

So basically the EU ministers are now refusing to speak to their EU counterparts because they’ve annoyed them with their xenophobic Brexit nonsense, so the Foreign Office has decided to send in the royals instead? They must truly be desperate!

Commonwealth realms and member states receive far more visits, with European trips largely restricted to war commemoration events or other specific anniversaries. That may now change, however, as Britain contemplates the process of negotiating trade deals with every EU member state.

What!?!? Don’t Telegraph journalists have any clue how the European Union functions? No EU member state can make its own trade deals, so although the UK will be regain that power after Brexit, crucially all the other member states won’t, and any such deals will have to be made directly with Brussels.

So the visit by the Countess cannot possibly affect a trade deal between the UK and the Netherlands (because there won’t be one), and all she can do is to schmooze local business leaders and try to talk them into buying more innovative jam. I’m not saying that’s impossible, but she could have done that without Brexit.

If this paragraph is based on a briefing the journalist from The Telegraph got from the Foreign Office, it’s rather worrying, though. They should be aware that such trade deals won’t be possible, and it smacks of incompetence of the highest order if they think otherwise. They’re basically sending the royals out to visit cloud cuckoo land if that’s the remit they’re giving them.