Citizen of Nowhere


For those that don’t know me, here are the key things you need to know in a digestible nutshell.  My British mum met my French dad while she was studying in France, she fell in love, got married and had me. She soon realised my father was a monster and had the courage, when I was just two years old, to leave him, taking me back to London with her. I grew up in London with my mum and my maternal grandparents. My Easter and Summer holidays were spent in France with my paternal grandparents, those holidays were far from happy.

Now many people won’t realise this but how you became British was fundamentally sexist until the early eighties. You were only British if you were born to a British father or born in Britain, but some clever, passionate people realised that was wrong and the law was changed to recognise a British mother’s right to pass on her nationality.  Yay right? Yeah well maybe it would have been a big yay, but the change to recognise British mother’s was not made retrospective. Anyone born prior to that random date in the early 80s to a British mother was still not recognised as British.

I was born in 1975. I have lived in England for the majority of my life, I have an English accent, I’ve been educated here, I’ve worked here, I’ve paid my taxes here. In my 42 years of life, I’ve not paid any tax in France, or worked in France. I studied there briefly as part of my year abroad, as many British students have, because I did a joint honours French & Philosophy degree. But should I get in a pickle overseas its the French who will look after me, not the British.

Another side effect is that I’ve never been able to vote in a general election in Britain, only the local elections.  I was most definitely not allowed to vote in the Brexit referendum. If my mum had been French and my dad British my right to vote would have been recognised and protected.

Now there has been some movement in the law surrounding children of British mothers born prior to that arbitrary date in the early 80s.  As of about 6-7 years ago I qualified to become British through my mum. Sounds great right? Well here comes the small print:

  • There was originally a hefty fee associated with the application (boo!) but that was eventually reduced to just £80 (yay!)
  • £80 is a bit of an odd amount right? Well it’s to pay for the Citizenship ceremony because unlike children of British fathers, the children of British mothers, born prior to the law change in the 1980s, are forced to swear allegiance to the Queen
  • Oh and they also have to prove they are of good character, so the child of a British mother born prior to the early 80s must not have a criminal record, and must always have been on top of their taxes (yeap they check with HMRC to see if you’ve been a good little tax payer) and basically not been caught doing anything naughty.
  • And they can not pass their nationality on, so while they get to be British (assuming they pass the worthiness test of course ), the only way a child of theirs is British is if (a) they are born in Britain or (b) their spouse (husband or wife) is British

So you’re probably thinking that since I don’t even have/want kids , £80 and a bit of bureaucracy is a small price to pay and I should just suck it up, right? Except they reserve the right to reject any applications if they are incorrect (which also counts as a  big black mark against your name when you reapply) and in places the application form is a tad unclear in terms of what it’s actually asking you to provide. Plus if they reject it for being incorrect they won’t tell you what you did wrong. You just need to work that out for yourself like a good little mind reader. So the cost turns into £80 + the cost of the lawyer you need to make sure you don’t screw the application up.

Now I’ve lived with this all my life. It was just my weird reality. I’d identify as a Londoner, because London is such a wonderful hotbed of backgrounds you can be a French Londoner and not be a liar. I’m not entitled to say I’m British, but no-one can dispute my Londoner status, so I’ll just have to live with that right?

Except, well Brexit happened, and now I find the British government think my rights are expendable, that I’m a bargaining chip, my rights to live, work and be here something that could be taken away if the EU don’t play ball. If one more supposedly intelligent and liberal person points out that it’s only fair because the Brits living in Europe need to be protected, I may give in to the urge to punch a wall. It is not, in any circumstance OK to take away rights from a minority group, ever!  That they do not see that chills me. Oh and the”but they’d never actually do it” argument is so infuriatingly weak I don’t even know where to start. I mean make your bloody minds up, if holding my rights hostage is crucial to successful negotiations, surely that’d only be effective if you were willing to follow through on your threats. I mean that is hostage taking 101 right? If you don’t get what you want, you need to be prepared to shoot a hostage to demonstrate you’re serious.

Now I know I have choices. As far as I can tell they are as follows:

(1) To suck up the cost and the sexism of it and become British, in the watered down, compromised way they offer daughters of British mothers born prior to the early 80s. I’d be doing it out of fear of the British government, but what the hell right?

(2) To wait and see. Live with the constant knot of anxiety as politicians I wouldn’t trust to cat-sit hold my fate in their hands.  Live with the rage this has provoked in me, try to keep it locked up and hidden away from the endless parade of idiots I keep meeting, who think my fear is an overreaction, and that this is just the way of negotiations (every single person who has said this to me has been white and male – just an observation, would need more data points and a representative sample to pull out any robust conclusions).

(3) To leave. Make a new home in a different country. Somewhere that’d protect my rights, somewhere that wouldn’t threaten to change their own laws to discriminate against people like me, just because it’s expedient. Somewhere I don’t have family. Somewhere I’d have to start all over again.

I don’t know which route I’ll take. At the moment (2) is sort of happening by default but I don’t know how sustainable it is. The insecurity of living like this is unbearable. I suspect there was a part of me that hoped writing this post might help me make my mind up, but the reality of the situation is that there are just too many emotions tied up with the whole thing for me to truly trust any decision I might make right now.

So to any other EU Nationals reading this who live in Britain and thought it was their home, you’re far from alone and, yes, the behaviour of this British government is abhorrent, but hopefully one day the people of Britain will realise that.



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