My story

Like Steve Bullock, I’m getting a bit fed up with people not understanding how normal people are affected by Brexit, so here’s my story.

I’m also not looking for sympathy or anything here. I just want people to understand that we’re normal folks whose lives have been built here, and who want the rights we have and have exercised legitimately to be preserved.

I come from a small village in eastern Jutland in Denmark where my mum was the village minister.

My dad had moved to Denmark from Württemberg in West Germany five years before I was born when he got a job teaching dogmatics at the University of Aarhus (he met my mum there when she was in the final year of her MDiv).

In those days, you got the citizenship of your dad, so I was West German from birth. When I was six or seven years old, my dad applied for Danish citizenship.

(I think he was getting tired of getting hassled by the police every now and then – although Denmark joined the EEC in 1973 together with the UK and Ireland, things weren’t completely smooth in those days before the EU was created).

When he became a Danish citizen, so did I (and my sister), and we lost our German citizenship at that point. (Denmark and Germany didn’t make it possible to have dual nationality till later.)

Fast forward to 2002 when I had just finished my degree in linguistics and computer science. (Danish degrees used to be much more time-consuming that British ones, so I was 29 when I graduated in spite of studying full-time for most of the time.)

I was looking for a job that would allow me to use both linguistics and IT, and I was lucky enough to get a job at Collins Dictionaries in Bishopbriggs, first as analyst programmer, but soon afterwards as lead developer.

I shared an office with a lexicographer (hi Phyllis!), and after a few years we fell in love and moved in together, got married, and we now have two daughters together (aged 8 and 10) – they’re dual nationals (British/Danish).

My wife also has three kids from her first marriage to a French programmer. They’re 12, 18 and 20 and are also dual nationals (British/French).

In 2009, I was made redundant (thanks, financial crash!), and Phyllis and I started up our own company. As is often the case, the first couple of years were tough, and we only just scraped through.

The whole family campaigned for Scottish independence in 2014, not least because we were worried about the increasingly shrill Europhobic voices emerging from England – we believed our future would be more secure in an independent Scotland inside the EU.

But Scotland voted No, and two years later, the UK voted Leave. I was distraught, but when Nicola Sturgeon reassured us EU citizens the next morning, it really helped (I even wrote about it in Bella Caledonia at the time).

I didn’t put much thought into getting Permanent Residence etc. for the first year, because it seemed quite certain that Scotland would hold a second independence referendum and remain in the EU.

However, when Theresa May said “Now is not the time”, and many SNP MPs subsequently got replaced by unionists, it felt like the SNP lost its mojo to some extent, and we’re now planning our future on the basis that Scotland might leave the EU with the rUK.

If we’re staying, I need to get UK citizenship – I don’t want to fall into the clutches of the Home Office’s hostile environment. To get that, I need PR – and that requires five years’ worth of employment records.

(It would have been much easier to get PR and citizenship back in 2009, but Denmark only recently made it possible to acquire a new nationality without losing your Danish passport, so it wasn’t an option before 2015).

My most regular employment period is 2002–2009, but I cannot find all my payslips and P60s – they must’ve got lost in our last house move. (After 2009, it gets more complex because we set up our own company.) So it’s a hassle.

And it’s not a case of just sending in what I’ve got and hoping the best. If the Home Office aren’t happy, they’ll tell you to leave the country almost immediately. So until I’m confident the paperwork is perfect, I won’t send it in.

And once I’ve got PR, I still need to sit a language test to prove that I speak English and pass the “Life in the UK” test. Working with dictionaries in Scotland for 16 years doesn’t count at all. Oh, and it’ll cost a lot of money.

If we’re not staying, we have two problems: (1) Phyllis (my wife) has only British citizenship, and she isn’t eligible for anything else. Annoyingly, she could easily have got French citizenship when she was married to a Frenchman, but that’s too late now. (2) My youngest stepson (12yo) has technically speaking got both British and French citizenship, but he doesn’t have any paperwork documenting the latter, and the French authorities want his father to go the embassy in London with him for that purpose. However, he’s moved back to France, and my stepson hasn’t seen him since 2012, so that’s not a great option. Perhaps we’ll find a way, but in the worst case we cannot prove that he’s a French citizen.

If we cannot prove that he’s a French citizen, post-Brexit it might be practically impossible for me to move the EU with him. I’m not entirely certain, but it’s definitely not anything we’ll want to test out.

So if there’s any chance that we’ll want to move to the EU after Brexit, we need to do so before Brexit to be on the safe side. If the transition agreement gets signed, that pushes the deadline to December 2020, but it could still fall through.

In other words, we currently have to assume that we might need to move to the EU before March 2019 – and we’ll probably know this by October this year.

If we move, we’ll have to discontinue our company, throwing away all the work we’ve put into it for the past nine years, given that most of our clients are in the UK. And we’ll need to find jobs in the place we’re moving to.

If we stay, we might then not to able to move later. And if my elderly parents (who have retired to Italy) get frail, we probably cannot bring them over here post-Brexit, as we had always thought we could. And we’re giving up our own chance of retiring somewhere else in the EU.

Furthermore, our daughters (the ones with dual British/Danish citizenship) will lose their Danish citizenship if they don’t live in Denmark for a while before their 22nd birthday (it’s a silly Danish law, but it is what it is).

When the UK was a full EU member, that didn’t matter too much, but it’s now their right to travel and work in the EU that they’ll lose together with their Danish passport.

So if we remain, we’ll probably have to convince them to do a gap year in Denmark before going to uni, although that really isn’t the time people do gap years in Scotland.

I’m currently looking into getting my German citizenship back, because the girls would be able to keep that for life. However, a lot of the paperwork has been lost, so it won’t be easy.

By the way, one thing that is stopping us from moving to the EU is that we don’t know where to move to. Denmark is about as xenophobic as England, and it’s not IMHO the best place to bring up a multicultural family. Scotland is much nicer.

Our three youngest kids are bilingual (English/Danish), so I’m sure they could cope fine with Sweden or Norway, too. Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium would be harder for them, but they’d probably manage. Not sure about other places.

So there we are. Ideally we’d just wait and see how bad Brexit gets, but for the reasons I’ve listed above, we might need to escape before it happens. It’s so frustrating, tiring and emotionally draining.

PS: You might also want to read my wife’s take on this here.

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