The morning of 24th June 2016, if I remember rightly, came as something of a shock. As I watched David Cameron, then Prime Minister resign, I struggled to come to terms with what had just happened. I’ll turn 44 this month and I’ve lived my whole life as a citizen, not just of the UK, but of Europe. And now that’s about to change (probably).
As a teenager I’d left my council estate and made my way to university. I took day trips to Paris & Amsterdam. I studied on the Erasmus exchange programme and I spent a summer working my way round Europe by train. I enjoyed the benefits of visa-free travel, saw the benefits of EU grants to some of the poorest countries of Europe and saw co-operation with our closest neighbours as, broadly speaking, better than any of the alternatives.
Now I understand that the EU is not a perfect organisation by any means. There’s little to like about the CAP and I’m no fan of the idea of ‘ever closer union’. A European army is always a non-starter because of NATO & the general weakness of European armies. But I’ve also been to countries like Ukraine which saw the EU as a route that offered their country a future. Once.
In 2011 we moved our family to live, minister and start a new church in Sweden. By comparison to some of our American friends our access into the country was easy and straightforward. Why? Because we were EU citizens.
A few years back I was heading to the airport and I realised I’d forgotten my passport. A moment of panic ensued as I calculated that I wouldn’t be able to return home, get my passport and still make my flight. Moments later, relief flooded my system as I realised I was travelling inside the Schengen zone. No one asked or checked for any ID of any description. What a relief, but what a privilege. Passports are a check on the freedom of individuals to move past artificially created boundaries. Inside a huge area where there had been restriction, there was now much greater freedom.
So for the entire duration of my life I can’t think of a single time where I personally have experienced a negative consequence as a result of being an EU citizen. I can think of lots of positives. So the 24th June 2016 was shocking in that I did not expect a (very slim) majority to completely disagree.
I knew the older generation who could remember a time before I was born thought differently but still I was surprised shocked and a little upset.
Then it was two years of negotiations and we knew that in 2017 we would be able to apply for citizenship, which in November of that year we did. We love living in Sweden and Stockholm has become our home. We like Europeans and citizenship would say that clearly. Both the UK & Sweden allow for dual citizenship so we felt we could reasonably become citizens of our adopted country and afford our children the benefits they and we had been born into. We realise the privilege. In essence we were going to buy a new passport.
Then March 2019 rolls around and all is quiet on the citizenship front. The immigration authorities appear to be no more efficient in Sweden than anywhere else in case you were wondering and are still labouring under the strain that the record immigration intake of 2015 imposed upon the country. There is also, as yet, still no deal. Instead of everyone whinging about the deal but getting on with it as I thought would happen, everyone hated it for lots of different reasons. Brexit means Brexit but nobody knows what that means.
And so in the next few weeks, as it stands, we will (in theory) lose our right to live here. And in theory we will lose our right to healthcare here and also not be eligible for it in the UK. We will, in theory, lose our access to travel as freely as we have before. With the right to live here comes an awful lot of other rights. In theory they could all go too. I don’t think they will. But they could. I don’t believe that will happen. But it might.
So for the first time, I sense some anxiety in me. Some anxiety about what will happen if we find ourselves not yet citizens of the country we call home but citizens of a country that has taken that life away. It’s all very inconvenient.
There are much bigger issues at stake about national destiny than my own personal story but you care about what impacts you. Brexit is only impacting me in negatively.
I care that the country of my birth is without leadership, without direction, without vision. I care that it’s reputation is suffering, it’s democracy failing and it’s people divided. I care that there seems to be no way out.
But I also care about church planting in the EU, I care about the nations of Europe. I care about peace on this, the most fractious and explosive of continents. On my desk is a voting registration for European Parliament elections. It’s a democracy (of sorts) and I’d like to vote because that’s our democratic privilege and I’d like to register a vote but as it stands I’ll lose that right too.
Fortunately, the nations are in the hands of the Lord and nations rise and nations fall. We’re also citizens of a kingdom greater than the UK or the EU, and my family will be taken care of by the King of that land. It’s not, the last time I checked, a democracy but the King is very, very good. So I’ll not worry about April the 12th or whenever the day of reckoning eventually is.