I realise that many people are in an even worse position than me and have felt so upset for them when I’ve read what they are going through. But here’s what’s happening to me. I think it comes under the heading of “anxiety” with a large dollop of anger and sense of betrayal thrown in. The uncertainty about my future has made me a bit of a wreck since last June. I’m Italian – actually, a dual national, as my father was American and my mother Italian – but came to England in my early teens, went to school and university here and fell in love with the country. I went back to Rome for a few years, then lived in France, and eventually found my way “home” to London. I’ve been here – on and off – for 34 years.
That said, I had always planned to retire in France. I’ve been self-employed for the past eleven years, and since subtitling rates keep falling, I’ve had to work harder and harder to make ends meet and had finally reached the conclusion that the only way out of this eight-to-midnight, seven-day work week was to sell my London home, move somewhere cheaper and sunnier, and with the difference, buy a place to rent out as a form of pension. I’d still work, but not as relentlessly. I might even rediscover weekends. Worried about the effect on house prices and the pound if Brexit happened, I’d started to look at moving away in 2015.
As I was seeking out this new home, I got together with someone who has every reason to want to remain in England – for the time being at least. His son has just started university and, as they are very close, I would hate to drag him away to another country while his son is still so young and in need of moral support. Also, my partner doesn’t speak French yet and still has four years to go before he can retire. There are other considerations, too. For one thing, he is American and has Indefinite Leave to Remain, which he would lose if he followed me to France. If I died before five years are up, he could not stay in France and wouldn’t be allowed to return to England, meaning he’d be forced to move back to the USA, without a pension that rises with inflation, without any right to healthcare and a whole world away from his British son. It would be a disaster for him.
He’s applying for an Irish passport – to which he would be entitled through his four grandparents – but we are not certain he can obtain that yet. And I’m applying for British citizenship just to be safe.
But the process of gathering the necessary information is proving arduous. Being self-employed doesn’t help, so I decided to base my application on a five-year period when I was an employee. One company has been sold on and the company that bought it claims to have absolutely no records of my three-year employment there. None. The other company has folded altogether and no longer exists. I went to see an immigration lawyer with whatever scraps of information I found gathering dust in the attic – a few stray salary strips, one or two P60s that I hadn’t managed to lose – and was told that I had sufficient evidence for those five years, but now needed to prove that I hadn’t left the country since July 2005, when she deemed I’d achieved PR. She told me my council tax bills didn’t qualify, as I might own property but still have left the country for two years. She advised me to get copies of my utility bills. The phone company declared it had absolutely nothing on me prior to 2015, when I’d renewed my broadband and phone contract. The gas and electricity company would only send me copies dating back to 2011, because they’d archived the rest and – for some reason I truly cannot fathom – refuses to unearth them for me, even in exchange for the hefty fee I’d offered to pay. Same with Thames Water: archived bills cannot be sent out. HMRC made me wait two months and when the information I’d requested arrived, it was riddled with obvious mistakes. When I called to point out the errors, I was told that I had to write to the department in question, asking for a correction, and would probably have to wait another two months for the corrected paperwork to arrive. And time, of course, is running out. My only hope is to go through the entire house and try to find all my bank statements going back to July 2005, as the bank hasn’t been very helpful either. I’m not the most organised person, and while I know I’ve shredded all my utility bills, my bank statements must be “somewhere”, but it could take ages to find them. After I obtain PR, I still need to try for citizenship. At this rate, it will be March 2019 before I sort anything out.
However, even obtaining British citizenship will not help me with my long-term dream of retiring in France. It will only help me to stay in a country that no longer wants me, and – I now realise – probably never did. It’s been particularly hard to stomach the fact that women I’d been at school with 45 years ago, and have been close friends ever since, voted to Leave.
As far as I can tell, I can’t go to France now. Britain being my “competent state,” I will not be entitled to reciprocal healthcare unless I move to France before March 2019. However, the way things stand, only pensioners already in receipt of a state pension before March 2019 will be entitled to export uprated pensions. And I’m too young for that. I still have seven years to go before I can retire. Irony of ironies, if they hadn’t raised the state pension age from 60 to 66, I’d be fine.
I cannot begin to describe the anguish of seeing my dream of going back to France in tatters. It also means I am doomed to work seven days a week, at ever decreasing rates, until I die, because even the paltry British state pension won’t support me here. Housing is too expensive for me to live somewhere and rent somewhere else out. I’ll have to keep working.
I have been battling to get this reversed. I wrote to my MP, I wrote to David Davis personally, pointing out that – this way – they are effectively imprisoning EU citizens in Britain who’d otherwise want to go home. But I haven’t heard back from him.
As things stand, I can only hope and pray that people see sense and reverse this madness. It is particularly galling that Brexit was pushed through with lies, fed by a billionaire press who stands to gain from leaving the EU because they were about to clamp down on their tax-evasion practices. The little people fell for it, and the little people will pay the price.