Solidarity

I have had to become something of a political animal over the past few weeks, in an issue that directly concerns me: my life in continental Europe and France, the place where I live and work, where I contribute to the Social Security system to have healthcare when I need it and a pension. I share the same concerns as tens of thousands of other British people in France and 1.2 million of us in the 27 countries of the European Union. To this day, our future depends on the fudging incompetence of our British political system, Labour as well as the Tories.

What do they want? I would be tempted to suspect that the UK is for sale to the highest bidder to turn the country into a rich man’s playground – and to hell with ordinary people, even those who are worn out with work and pride in their jobs. This would be Thatcherism on steroids! Those people seem to have a thoroughly corrupt agenda, worthy of a banana republic, not that of one of the last remaining Kingdoms of the western world. This is my country where I was born, and for which I would have been sent to fight and die had I been born in about 1920. I was brought up to love England, and I still bask in nostalgia for the Lake District, the Costswolds, music by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, John Ireland and that gentle pastoral character of our land. Our United Kingdom (because I don’t discriminate against the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh), with Germany and our Saxon roots, nurtured the Romantic Movement and its philosophy and poetry. Now, it is up for grabs to become a billionaire’s tax haven. Or is it? I have no certitude to make a credible accusation.

When that vote came up in 2016 for leaving or remaining in the European Union, I had already been out of England for more than fifteen years. In such a situation, we don’t have the vote! French people retain the vote for life, wherever they live. I am from a conservative family, and Euroscepticism has been in our family conversations for years. Where did I diverge? I got on a car ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe in 1982 and set off on my adventure in France. I returned to England in 1983 to 1984. I then returned to France. In 1985 I went to Rome. In 1986 I went to Switzerland to study theology. I returned to Italy until 1993 for my seminary training, and was send on pastoral experience back in France. From 1995 to 1996 I spent nearly a year in Bishop Hamlett’s ACC and returned to France, this time to stay. An unsettled existence, all that? Unstable? Perhaps due to my constant feeling of alienation associated with Aspergers autism, which I learned about only in 2016-17. Europe made me cosmopolitan. From someone feeling rootless, I became a European. Europe is an ideal that was born from the strife and atrocity of two world wars and goodness knows how many wars and revolutions before the twentieth century. Since 1945, we have lived in peace and prosperity. This seems to be coming to an end as old demons lurk in our dark sides.

Two years after the referendum, no one knows what is going to happen with Brexit, least of all the British Government. They seem to want to secure a leaving agreement and only a vague fudge about a future relationship, which they can sell as all things to all people. We are divided into leavers and remainers, largely depending on age. The leaving agreement will only cover the rights of EU citizens in the UK, the Irish border and the withdrawal payment. That is all that is required under Article 50. They have been talking about this for two years and nothing is decided.

So let’s have a hard no-deal Brexit! Contracts will be breached and buying and selling goods and services is only possible under contract. The result will be chaos. We seem to be ruled by people who have no conscience or care about destroying the lives and hopes of ordinary people. I prefer dysfunctional and bureaucratic Brussels to the spectre of post-Brexit Britain! Perhaps, this idiotic monster will be stopped, shut down, killed. It seems to be even money at present.

I learn a lot from Remain in France Together and we have a Facebook group. We are now 9,459 members. You can join on condition of answering three questions, and the group is well moderated. The website is very helpful for compiling lists of documents required by the French authorities: birth certificate and sworn translation, passport, proof of address, proof of uninterrupted residence in France, tax statements and health coverage. I have not had a residence permit since my old one ran out in 2004. The Prefecture of the Vendée at the time told me it was not necessary as we Brits belong to the EU. Why bother with something that is no longer required?

It is going to be needed when the UK jumps off the cliff next March. I want to be a legal resident in France and not have endless bother getting back to France after a visit to England. I went to the Prefecture in Rouen this morning to get my Carte de Séjour application appointment. I had to wait my turn for about 1 1/2 hours to get the appointment. I expected it, so read a book while the numbers turned. It was not possible by internet or phone. That is understandable given their workload. When my turn came up, the man was very helpful and pleasant. He told me that France was getting ready for a no-deal Brexit, and that 700 extra customs officers would be taken on. He said in a friendly voice that France would not leave us on the beach like at Dunkerque. He alluded to 1940. He was extraordinarily well informed, not at the level of ignorance found in functionaries deplored by those who have been treated shabbily by other Prefectures in France. I have my appointment for 15th November. I will probably have to wait about two months for the card, which should be in time for the fateful date. In the meantime, I intend to set my application for French nationality into motion – and that takes up to about two years! It will be worth it, because I would then recover my full freedom of movement to travel to other European countries as a European.

Acquiring citizenship of another country is more than just an administrative procedure – it involves our whole belief system and sense of identity: as such is an emotional, philosophical and ethical decision, not just a pragmatic one. And that complicates the issue for many.

What is going to happen? It will depend on whether the British Government and the EU come to an agreement this month. If those negotiations break down, it will be a hard Brexit or no Brexit, preferably the latter. The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs presented a bill enabling the government to take measures by decree to prepare for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. This would include provision for British expatriates (British Europeans) to keep the rights we presently enjoy. Presently, we are faced with the worrying attitude of “tit-for-tat” between Westminster and Brussels. However, I have the impression that Europe might prove more generous and compassionate than Theresa May who would limit immigration to those who earn more than £50,000 per annum, about twice the salary of a NHS doctor!

It is all very “iffy” because nothing is decided until everything is decided. In the event of a hard Brexit, such legislation might not be possible.

There’s not much we can do other than pray and encourage each other, especially British pensioners who fear being deported on a whim or not allowed to receive their pensions. We are all in different situations, and all that has to be sorted out by the Prefecture functionaries. I don’t envy them! They are not that well paid, and they work hard. They can’t go quicker than the machine! Those of us who have been here several years and are married to a spouse of French nationality are safe. The procedure for acquiring nationality par déclaration (by marriage) as opposed to par décret is relatively simple. It is merely a legal confirmation of an existing situation de facto. This is a wonderful example of law coming after established fact like in Canon Law. In a couple of years, I’ll enter England with my British passport and return to France with my EU French one.

Many of us are going to demonstrations in London later this month to make people aware of the numbers of British expatriates in the EU. I’m afraid I don’t have the time or the money to go. What I can do is to research and write about the European ideal, just as I found in writings by Romantic philosophers and writers. I need to know more about the development of the present European Union and discern its ideals over and above simply economic or regulatory considerations. It is another objective of my Blue Flower. The pen (or computer keyboard) is mightier than the sword!

I beg British readers of my blog to reconsider if they voted to leave the EU. We were told lies in 2016, and I don’t think anyone intentionally voted for chaos and instability, for catastrophe and mass homelessness and poverty. I appeal to all to support in any way possible any number of movements to stop Brexit and make the UK a key player in the future of Europe through our true patriotism, culture, prestige and business talents. There may be another referendum. There may only be the possibility to petition MP’s to kill Brexit and avert a human catastrophe on a scale of more than a million persons.

Solidarność! – as the Polish workers cried in the 1980’s led by the determination and spirituality of Pope John-Paul II. Theirs too was a struggle for humanity and our dignity in the sight of God. Let us put away our populist and simplistic temptations of nationalistic jingoism for the sake of nobility of spirit and being right with God.

* * *

Update, a couple of articles about the British diaspora in Europe.

In my own experience, I have little to do with other Britons in France, except on the Facebook group. I live in an area that is on the English Channel coast, but where fewer Britons live than in the Dordogne for example or even in the Vendée where there are shops selling Marmite and Worcestershire sauce among other things. Married to a French woman, I have become totally integrated except in the recesses of the secret garden of my own mind.

British people don’t have the esprit du corps of eastern Europeans, for example, united by religion. We are frustratingly individualist, and I have met very few expats who would be remotely interested in attending church services. It takes a certain amount of independent thinking to leave England and live in another country where the language and culture are different. The stereotypes are still in the collective consciousness, the wealthy retired and nostalgic for the old Empire or middle-aged folk looking for the Good Life that is beyond their financial means in England.

To those we left behind in England, as the years pass, migrating almost seems to be seen as morally reprehensible. We can easily be seen as cheats avoiding paying taxes in the UK. Unlike the Americans, we don’t pay tax in the UK if we don’t live there or have any income, and we generally do not benefit from any tax-funded services. It is a temptation to see ourselves as colonists, but the Great Invisible Empire of Romantia is only a whim of the mind. We live in other countries because they let us in, and we are expected to learn and respect their cultures and languages – and not be a burden on their welfare systems.

This is an aspect of multiculturalism seen “from the other side”. Expat Britons tend to be discreet and respectful, but we do need something of our own identity. It is not without a reason that I still write in English and refer to what was familiar to me until I was in my early twenties. If we expect to survive in a world that becomes increasingly nationalist and ideologically driven, we have to integrate and play the game in society.

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11 Responses to Solidarity

  1. Fr Edward Bryant says:

    Dear Father. Thank you for your impassioned post. One small correction:although facts are hard to come by, anecdotally many, if not most, NHS doctors in General Practice earn in excess of £100 000 a year. So well paid are they that many choose to work part time, which is why it is common to wait weeks for an appointment. Another can of worms!

  2. Rubricarius says:

    WRT to NHS doctors it depends on what type of doctor one is considering. The post is correct if referencing junior doctors in the NHS. OTOH as Fr. Bryant comments above a doctor in General Practice could certainly make £100 000 if not double that figure depending on the exact nature and size of the practice they were part of.

    However Fr. Anthony’s post is an excellent one. Brexit, if unchallenged will be a self-inflicted disaster for ‘ordinary’ people both home and abroad. The likes of Farage, BloJo & Rees-Mogg will just swan off on the USA lecture tour when the s**t hits the proverbial fan and make a fortune from that and selling their memoirs.

    I would echo your comment Fr. Anthony in that all decent people in the UK need to do their utmost to thwart Brexit by any legal and peaceful means possible. As the saying goes ‘it is not over until the fat lady sings’… although we have seen the IceMaiden dance…

    • I like the “Ice Maiden”. She has also been nicknamed “Cruella De Ville”. Keep your dogs safe! 😀 BloJo or Blow-Job?

      Rees-Mogg (aka Mr Smogg, Moggie, etc.) has been photographed with his little black microphone under his nose. It makes him look like Hitler.

  3. David Marriott says:

    You will retain dual nationality, I gather: as do we here in Canada. However, I find that my Canadian passport is so well accepted that I no longer have a UK passport (Oh, that is accepted by many: except for the man at Heathrow immigration who carefully stamps that I cannot work: even when the passport clearly states my place of birth in Lancashire!)

    • Dual nationality is automatic. We don’t lose UK nationality unless we voluntarily relinquish it. My UK passport is valid until 2022 and I’ll renew it at the British Consulate in Paris, that is if the New Empire hasn’t declared war on the EU! It’s a real drag to get all the papers together for my simultaneous application for the residence permit and French nationality, the latter taking about 2 years. The residence permit would get me allowed to return to France after a visit to England. Many of us are praying that this nightmare gets cancelled and stopped, and that those responsible for the plot behind Brexit get very long prison sentences!

  4. Dale says:

    Well, Fr Anthony, at least you did not call Brexit supporters racists, bigots, or simply old and useless pensioners, who should not be allowed to vote, as has been the level of rants one usually hears from Owen Jones and company. But, anyway, here is a slightly opposing view:

    https://www.julesgomes.com/single-post/Brexit-bashing-bishop-says-hes-prophetic-even-if-prejudiced-or-wrong

    • This is the difference between “ad hominem” attacks and some real concerns for my country and people who risk being in difficult situations.

      As far as I understand circumstances around the referendum of 2016 many people voted “leave” because of mass Islamic immigration and the threat to law and order. This fear can in certain cases be fuelled by “populism”, an ideology fuelled by the lack of trust in politicians and the establishment. Many of these fears are legitimate, but I can also see how they can be used by demagogues like in the 1920’s and 30’s. People get worked up emotionally and their debate is reduced to the level of slogans. We need to keep on the high road, and look at it all philosophically. We need to assess how real the Islamic threat is, whether they would Islamise the west. I don’t think they can for as long as we remain Christians and humanists.

      This is why I don’t rant about this subject. I try to see it rationally and philosophically, and in terms of the future of Europeans in each others’ countries. I think the EU will be more generous with British expats than the UK with EU workers earning less than £50,000 pa. In the UK, money is everything, whilst human beings and our rights still matter in the EU. That is a sweeping statement – but not far from the truth.

      • Dale says:

        “We need to assess how real the Islamic threat is, whether they would Islamise the west. I don’t think they can for as long as we remain Christians and humanists.”

        I think that too often we in the West have forgotten that all of the Middles East, Egypt, North Africa, and Asia Minor were Christian, they did not become Islamic states because they did not remain Christian, but because they were overwhelmed by a Muslim minority who eventually enforced their will on them.

        If we do not think that this cannot happen in the West…we are fools.

        The European Union in its original incarnation was an economic union, but it has morphed into the super state that often forces its agenda over the rights of member states that may disagree with the demands of an un-elected elite (the present situation of Poland and Hungary come to mind). The growing centralization of power in the hands of un-elected bureaucrats is more than a tad bit dangerous. My father did not fight the Germans so that we the world can be subjugated to the personal and willful demands of Mrs Merkel and her fourth Reich.

        I am sorry that you feel so threatened by Brexit in France, but do you really think that the French or anyone else, is going to simply going to do a forced removal of Britons in France? I sincerely doubt that this is even a remote possibility, it is simply posturing. I lived in France long before Great Britain became part of the E.U. and there were many, many Englishmen and women living in France without problems. And so it will continue. Also, if you take French citizenship I sincerely doubt the British authorities are going to shoot you at the border for visiting your family.

      • Many thanks for this. The media at present tell us that the UK and the EU have a couple of weeks to come to an agreement. If there is no deal by the inevitable date, then everything will shut down – trade, movement of persons by sea and air and the economy will crash. British business will have to relocate to the EU. There may be some relenting about travel, but it will be like the EU or any country in the world with the USA: visas, green cards, misunderstandings. Until I have all my French resident permits and nationality, I would not be able to go to England and be allowed back into France without a long application for a visa or proving that I am a tourist with my residence in England – whilst driving a French registered vehicle. Irregularity on all sides and stuck at the port!

        The Islamic problem? Let’s see what post-Brexit Britain does about it. If anything is done, there will be an international scandal. Much easier to get rid of the Europeans in the UK or stop any more getting in, and let the young men from Syria, Irak, etc. in without papers or prospects of jobs. Perhaps being underground Christians in an Islamic regime will be better than the present secularism. Theresa May’s “means test” proposal (skills and high income) is obviously a workaround to stop accusations of racial discrimination. However, I think more Muslims will delight in the pleasures of consumer capitalism than western people wanting to live in a world of public executions and no pleasures!

        I am now motivated to read about the history of the EU and its founding ideals. Some seem to have wanted a “United States of Europe” copying the USA, which might not be such a bad idea. Over here, we have a much wider diversity of languages and cultures, but in the USA, English is not the only language. Spanish isn’t an official language, but a very large number of people speak it before English. There is the danger of a “1984” dystopia, which is happening in America and is a fact in countries like China. I have always had the inkling that the UK should stay in and work towards a reform to bring about more democracy and accountability. The British Government is now showing how little democratic or accountable it can be with a sinister agenda of deregulating its capitalist liberalism.

        My grandfather fought the Germans too and spent 5 years in an Oflag in very hard conditions, even though he was an officer. They got him at Dunkerque in 1940. Whatever we can say about Frau Merkel, she is not a Nazi, and modern Germany is not going to go down that road again. There are problems, and we need to be better informed. The UK now could easily go down that road with our skinheads, lager louts and football hooligans, those who lap up the Daily Express and the Sun. “Paki-bashing” is on the rise now, as truly racialist people feel empowered.

        No, the French are not going to expel anyone who is legally resident (as we presently are being EU) and living under French law. There would be problems for newcomers next year if Mrs May goes through with excluding less than highly skilled and / or wealthy Europeans. Post Brexit will not be the same thing as pre-EU. Post and pre are never the same thing in history. As I say, the problem wouldn’t be entering England but getting back to France unless I have the papers I am now applying for, and which take months to be processed. I hope my father doesn’t die within the next year or so, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go to his funeral without being stuck in England! That is the kind of thing that would be an issue personally. Then again, I might have my papers in order – but I could be mired in huge queues because of the enhanced checks and security. It is estimated that next April, the queues of vehicles on the roads to the ports – both sides – would be up to 20 miles. If that happens, I would stay in France and not move anywhere for any reason. Is that what the British people voted for in 2016?

        The Brexit referendum was obtained by deceit and lies and the campaign was illegally financed. I think the whole thing should be stopped and for England to participate more fully in the EU to work for those needed reforms and improvements to constitutional law. The stakes are too high and Brexit is a monster that escapes the control of our incompetent and divided political establishment. It should be stopped and sent back to the drawing board for at least 10 or 20 years and worked out by people who know the first things about economics, trade, human rights, social philosophy and God knows what else…

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “It is a game played for national interests and always was.” And, “‘What appalling cynicism.’ ‘Yes, we call it diplomacy, Minister.'” As they (used to?) say on exam papers, ‘Discuss.’


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