I thought I would add this letter to this blog. I sent it to the MP for Tooting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan a few days ago.
I wrote it one evening shortly after our move. Sitting on a sofa in a flat just outside Detroit, I felt quite emotional thinking about the place I’ve called home for so many years and the uncertainty about what will happen to people like me. Maybe at that moment I really, truly felt like never before that I was a Londoner. I miss London so much.
I do not know if she’ll ever have the time to read it, but when pressing send, I felt I was trying to do my (little) bit to make the voices of European citizens in the UK heard, and this was better than doing nothing at all.
Dear Mrs Allin-Khan,
I thank you in advance for reading the below.
My name is Caroline, I’m French, and until last month I had been happily living in Tooting for 5 years. I happen to have moved to the US for a couple of years as my British husband has got a job opportunity in Michigan. Any other year of our lives, this would have been such an exciting adventure for the three of us (we have a one year old baby girl, born in St George’s Hospital last year). But because of Brexit, we feel we’re living our little family adventure with a big dark cloud over our heads.
As I’m French, I obviously was not allowed to vote for you, but 1) I’m a Labour supporter and have voted Labour at any local election I’ve been allowed to vote over the 10 years I’ve lived in the UK; 2) unlike what your colleague Gisela Stuart said to one of my fellow European citizens, I believe each MP represents everyone living in their constituency, not just the people who vote… as the law is for everyone! 3) You were elected when I was still living in the UK and if I’m allowed back to my family home in Tooting, you’ll still be my MP when we come back from our 2 years in the US. So I see you as my MP! And I feel very lucky that “my” MP is such a great role model for girls and women everywhere.
I am writing to you and asking you to spend some of your precious time over my email as what is happening right now in the UK is extremely worrying. I would never dare telling you how to vote, but I think it’s my duty as a Londoner, a European citizen, a foreigner (as I now feel), the mother of a child who holds a British passport, the wife of a British citizen, and a Member of your constituency to contact you and share my story and my concerns.
I was raised by a family who always told me I was very lucky to grow up in a peaceful Europe, unlike my grand parents did; and in time of prosperity, unlike my Spanish great grand parents did. My mother kept telling me that my playground was the whole of Europe, there was no border keeping me within the narrow boundaries of my country. I was told countless of times by my Grand dad that learning English was one of the most important thing I could get out of school! When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the UK and especially by London. The culture, the wit, the music, the history… I moved there on 7th May 2006, having found a job in marketing at Unilever. Moving within the EU is so easy: no need for a visa, pension rights are guaranteed across countries and I’m only a few hours away from home and my family. I would have discounted any move which would have been more complicated or which would have impacted my pension rights back home. In the 10 years I’ve lived in London, I’ve met my husband and so many friends. I’ve lived my life there, London is the city where I’ve spent the most time as a grown up. It is my home. Although right now I’m sitting in a flat in Michigan, my family home is in Tooting, being rented out until we come back, on time for our daughter to start school as we want her to be educated in the UK. But what will be my status when I come back? I’ve worked for nearly 10 years, but have been on maternity leave since October 2015 then had to resign to follow my husband to the US (where I am looking for a job). I had never asked for permanent residency as that had no real use for EU citizens and now I do not qualify for it anymore. In 2 years time, when I come back, I will be seen as a new, fresh immigrant… or who knows as no one seems to know anything. Will I be allowed back in the country? Will the 10 years I spent in the UK declared as invalid as I was abroad for 2 years? Will I be allowed to work? So many questions no one can answer.
I honestly do not recognize the country that has been part of my life for so long. I never considered the Mail, Telegraph and others as papers worth reading but what they are doing right now is purely fuelling hate; against foreigners and against British institutions that are the pillar of this old and respected democracy. People can openly be racist, you can read or hear pure hatred the media and it does feel violence is not far. This is not the UK I used to know.
I’m writing to you so you hear one more story of a family impacted by all this nonsense but also to tell you that EU citizens across the country are scared and worried. I’m part of a group called the 3 millions (Forum for EU citizens) on Facebook and we share stories, tips, questions, anxieties. We play games too (“to which country would you move to if you were made to leave the UK” – amazing game that reminded me how bloody lucky I am to be European and that my playground would still be bigger than France). A lot of my fellow EU citizens wrote to “their” MPs following the vote against the motion presented by your colleague from the SNP regarding our rights. I’m writing to you now to ask you to not forget us, the people who cannot vote for you but who participate into the life of your constituency, who are part of British families (or not), who bring their culture and friendship, pay taxes without having a right to say anything on how their money can be spent, who are ambassadors for the UK across the world. I moved to London because it’s a crazy, bonkers, marvellous, beautiful, exciting, open, multicultural place and I do not think there is anywhere else in the world that can compete. I’ve worked hard, paid my taxes, proudly paid national insurance, I am raising a UK citizen, I’ve never asked for any benefit bar my maternity leave. I’ve invested into this country, paid stamp duty twice, employed local people, spent my money in local shops and restaurants. Please, help protect some of the people that contribute to make London (and the rest of the UK) amazing, that contribute to finance the wonderful NHS, that contribute to the great British culture. Until last June, I felt like a Londoner, now I feel like a foreigner. I’m conscious of my accent, I’m conscious I’m speaking a foreign language when I speak French to my baby. We are not bargaining chips, we are people and you and your fellows MPs also represent us, not just the UK citizens,
Thank you in advance,
And carry on your good work – Politics need more people like you.