At Málaga airport they let me through the normal passport queue. A relief. The EU citizens’ queue. My first flight after THAT date. Exit day. The guy at the passport desk said we could continue to use that line all this year, apart from odd days where they would “trial” sending us through the other queue, just to check that it’ll all work smoothly. Landing at Bournemouth nothing had changed, but then it is only a portakabin-style arrivals hall, nothing very high-security.
In the press they insist that nothing has changed. Some so-called journalists even state dogmatically that we haven’t actually left yet. They are clearly wrong. But so are the ones who say that nothing has changed yet, and that everything stays the same until December 31st. They are wrong too.
I’m on my flight back home, after a week visiting friends in Dorset (and stocking up on teabags and hot cross buns). Over the next few days I must confirm numbers in the bar where we have organised a surprise farewell party for a good friend being forced back to live in the UK. There is always a tangle of reasons, but she would not be going if the British government had not decided that being tough on freedom of movement was their top priority. I must pop in at Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche to pick up their message of thanks to her. She has been tireless in organising a network of volunteer collectors and drivers, the doll workshops for the children’s presents and the spongebag assembly lines, and all this on top of rescuing countless abandoned cats. Undoubtedly, back in England, this whirlwind of selfless energy will waste no time in making herself invaluable to her local human and feline communities, but none of that takes away from the fact that she cannot live where she has made her home. That’s a change.
You know that fundamental principle, “No taxation without representation”? Well that has changed, too. Those who have lived overseas for more than fifteen years had already lost their votes in the UK. But at least they have been able to vote in the municipal elections in their adopted country. Not any more. Those of us in Spain, yes. Spain has signed a treaty extending suffrage to us, despite us being “extra-comunitario” (outside the EU). Not so in all EU countries. Social media groups of British people in Europe are full of complaints that many people are paying taxes both in the UK and in their adopted country, yet have no vote anywhere. That’s a change.
And we check those advice groups every day. Those valiant groups of brilliant volunteers who pore over every missive from the UK and Spanish governments, updating us on every change. THEY know that it’s not true to say that nothing has changed. We await news about how Spain will organise the issuing of the new cards. The TIE. Tarjeta de Identificación Extranjera. The foreigners’ card. For extra-comunitarios. For outsiders. Our little green residency cards, applied for with such trepidation, received with disproportionate delight, will be taken from us this year. We might be done alphabetically, we don’t know how they will administrate it. For Spain it’s a big task. For each of us, it’s another change. A piece of plastic that identifies us as extra-comunitarios, as outsiders. As people with “permission to reside” but not the RIGHT to live in our homes. That’s a change.
And now the UK has published its new points-based immigration system and has classified all the EU care-workers and hospitality staff as “low-skilled”. The Facebook groups of EU citizens in the UK have exploded with anger. Thousands more are abandoning their applications for Settled Status and heading home. They understand perfectly well that the new system is for future incomers, but they have felt the change in atmosphere, they have felt unwanted, and this has been the last straw. That’s a change.
So we say to the journalists, the political commentators, the phone-in hosts, and the politicians: we are no longer “Remoaners” but we are still British citizens. And every time you insist that nothing has changed it is another reminder that we were never remembered in all this, never considered.
In the media last week there was much laughter at the now infamous Colin, the Brexiteer who was stuck in a queue at passport control at Schiphol Airport, going through the slow, non-EU queue. He tweeted his disgust, adding the hashtag “Not the Brexit I voted for”. Well yes, Colin, yes it is. Did you imagine that stopping freedom of movement would not impact you? Or me? Or my friend moving back? Sigh. But, with effort, I remember my mantra – blame the conners, not the conned. I genuinely hope that all the good things that people believed they were voting for DO appear. I hope that working conditions improve and that people who felt that the eastern European workers were depressing their wages and their prospects, now get their promotions and their pay-rises. I hope for a fully-funded NHS. I hope the government will replace all the EU funding that Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria have lost. I hope that taking back control means that Parliament and the justice system are in control (though the new Attorney General seems to take a different view). I hope our farmers will be reimbursed for the lost subsidies, and that food standards and animal welfare will be improved. I spend a lot of time hoping.
Everyone wants this to work. Everyone. Regardless of how we voted. Food security, jobs, the environment and working conditions – they are all way too important for us not to all be on the same side. We’re all leavers now. I want it to work, truly. But don’t palm me off with platitudes that nothing has changed. For those in the UK that might be true. But from where we stand over here, a lot has changed, and not for the better. I hope that Colin does get the Brexit he voted for, and that all the 17.4 million get the one they wanted, too. Because if not, what the hell has it all been for?
The airport bus whizzes me in to the centre of Málaga. There’s a fiesta going on, a festival of graffiti in Plaza de la Marina, combined with a basketball festival. Málaga doesn’t change much. Even when it changes, it doesn’t really change. There’s pretty much always a fiesta of some sort in Málaga. I wander as the artists demonstrate urban art and the youngsters shoot hoops, and finally I settle with a coffee in the 23°C sunshine. Please don’t change, Málaga. Over the last four years I’ve discovered that I don’t like change, much.
© Tamara Essex 2020 http://www.twocampos.com