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EU citizens are being kicked out of the UK

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Four years after the UK officially left the European Union, you can still be taken aback reading about Brexit’s self-defeating, if sometimes unintended, consequences. A Spanish woman was detained at Luton airport and denied re-entry after a Christmas visit to Spain, even though she had been living and working in the UK with her family for years. A French woman, married to a British citizen, had to give up her job after an apparent paperwork mix-up.

Trapped in the grey area of backlog and conflicting rules, like tens of thousands of EU citizens after Brexit, these cases are a recurring tale in post-Brexit Europe. Asked by the Guardian about the plight of the Spanish woman, the Home Office response parroted generic lines: “Border Force’s number one priority is to keep our borders safe and secure, and we will never compromise on this,” a spokesperson said.

How does detaining a 34-year-old veterinary nursing apprentice living with her husband and in-laws in Bedfordshire, returning home after a trip to meet her sister’s baby, and in possession of a UK government document stating her right to work, contribute to “safe and secure” borders? It obviously doesn’t.

The French woman was luckier: after she spoke out about her case, the Home Office restored her residency and work rights.

Was Brexit really about this? Did “taking back control” mean kicking out neighbours? Was it worth the lost growth and trade, the logistics nightmare and the shortages of workers? I cannot see how this could be portrayed as a triumph, by any measure.

About 4,000 EU citizens are denied entry to Britain every quarter, suspected of harbouring undocumented work or study plans. That means that about 60% of people now refused entry to the UK are from the European Union. They are usually the easiest people to send back to their countries of origin.

Some of them claim rightful residency under the terms of the Brexit agreement. In the midst of the chaos of the pandemic and travel restrictions, the UK accepted late applications for what it called “presettlement”. About 142,000 EU citizens were still waiting for their applications to be reviewed at the end of September 2023. According to the 3 Million, an EU citizens’ rights advocacy group in the UK, around 11,000 people have been waiting for more than two years, and the backlog could take another two and a half years to clear. This translates into uncertainty, anxiety and potential expulsion for thousands of families.

Obviously, all of this cannot be compared with the suffering of those risking perilous journeys to get to EU or British shores, nor the way they are treated at the borders. In a way, privileged Europeans are rediscovering the absurdities you can encounter at borders that they have made others endure for so long.

And yet one can suspect different levels of discrimination and hostility in the UK towards other Europeans depending on their country of origin. Most of the people being rejected or waiting for an application to be approved are from Romania, followed distantly by Bulgaria, Poland and Portugal, according to Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.

You might imagine that Britons would suffer the same kind of paperwork and uncertainty in the EU, but this is rarely the case. In Spain, a common reaction from readers commenting on the Spanish woman detained at Luton was to demand that British citizens should be treated in a reciprocal way. Across all 27 EU countries’ borders, 4,465 UK citizens were stopped in 2021 and 1,270 in 2022, with no rejections at the Spanish border in either year. Most Britons were stopped at borders in France or the Netherlands.

Despite the hurdles and the constant targeting of foreigners by the Conservative government, more than 5 million EU citizens remain in the UK after applying to the settlement scheme. Newcomers are declining in numbers, but the pull of the UK for Spaniards and other Europeans persists. Youth unemployment is still very high in Spain, and many young Spaniards still inquire about the almost closed route of work in the service industry in the UK, to learn English and acquire more skills.

Back in Spain, I am constantly asked the same two questions about the UK and Brexit: did they regret it? Will they come back? My answers are usually “yes, deeply”, and “it’s complicated”.

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Daily Dazzling Dawn is the first and only international and non-profitable newspaper, which is 100% ownership of professional journalists from Bangladeshi origin with 20 years of experience in global journalism. The main aim of the newspaper is promoting ethical journalism with truth, accuracy and proficiency.

Editor in Chief

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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