What constitutes home for you?
Is it only the country of your birth or something inherited through via family history? Or do you believe it is in your own hands, your home being where you have lived the longest, contributed the most, loved the deepest or felt most connected to the people and places that surrounds you?
However differing our measures of home may be, I’m sure most of us can agree that home—belonging— is a crucial component in all our lives. After all, an “Englishman’s home is his castle”, is it not?
So, imagine being told one day, after many years of living in your chosen home, to “make arrangements to leave”. To pack up the home where you have lived for more than half of your life, studied, worked, had a family and “laid roots”.
A horrible scenario, don’t you think? You’d be forgiven for thinking what follows is a story from a war-torn country. But not so.
This is the story of Monique Hawkins: a Dutch graduate of Cambridge University who has lived in the UK for the past 24 years.
An Uncertain Future
This story came to light in a Guardian article from the end of 2016. It is yet more evidence of the uncertainty that those innocent victims, EU citizens living in the UK, are facing in post-Brexit Britain.
The UK government has thus far given no definitive guidance on the fate of EU citizens that currently reside legally in the UK once Brexit has occurred. The current advice on government websites is that there has been “no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK”.
But change in the near future seems inevitable. This is especially so given the Prime Minister’s apparent determination to link two key negotiating points, free movement and single market access, with her European counterparts responding in kind.
Becoming a UK Citizen
Since the start of 2016, many more EU nationals have taken the decision to claim their UK citizenship. A wise move perhaps. But why now?
In pre-Brexit Britain, UK citizenship brought these people no additional rights above their EU citizenship.
But with the uncertainties surrounding their status post-Brexit, especially given that all those in possession of a UK passport only will soon lose their EU citizenship, this move is a way for EU nationals to take their fate into their own hands. By becoming UK citizens, they can ensure their right to remain here, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.
One such application was made by Monique Hawkins.
Monique Hawkins: One Among Many
Fearing at least the inconvenience of a “two-hour immigration queue” every time she came home (i.e. back to the UK), Hawkins applied for a document that confirmed her right to permanent residency, the first step towards UK citizenship, shortly after the result of the EU referendum.
What follows is a tortuous account of the nonsensical bureaucracy through which Hawkins attempted to independently assert her desire to become a UK citizen.
This includes a “flummoxing” 85-page application (it took this Cambridge graduate a weekend to fill out), a distinct lack of common sense in the Home Office (you can judge whether her reasons for not sending her passport are valid), and the “Monty Python-esque” farce that ensued (only moved forward with the intervention of her local MP).
And despite all the evidence to the contrary, this tale’s most recent chapter ended with her receiving a letter from the Home Office which read: “[a]s you appear to have no alternative basis of stay in the United Kingdom you should now make arrangements to leave”. It is not only the application which is flummoxing.
Hers is certainly not a unique story, with similar tales told by other EU nationals.
Hawkins herself admits that she doesn’t believe she would actually be deported, but that’s besides the point. The fact that a highly-skilled EU citizen, married to a British man with whom she has two children, is now living with such uncertainty is an indication of the extraordinary inefficiencies and lack of information about what a post-Brexit Britain will actually look like – for any of us.
A Question of Home
I wonder if the story of Monique Hawkins sounds familiar to you. The inefficiencies of central government bureaucracy; the lack of clear answers to fundamental questions post-Brexit; the uncertainties surrounding Brits abroad and EU citizens here are all recurring themes in the non-committal statements made by our government.
But we shouldn’t dismiss this story with a sigh and move on. Hawkins’ story gives us something more tangible to grasp onto than these vagaries and frustrations. It grounds the post-Brexit arguments surrounding immigration and citizenship in the notions of home and belonging.
Our home is one of those rare subjects that is at once universal and deeply personal. Hawkins’ story asks each of us to reflect on whether it is important to feel a surety about where we can belong and where we can call home.
Ultimately, it also asks us to decide who we want to hold the power in this decision-making process, and whether we are happy to see those who would qualify as valuable citizens by any other subjective measure leaving our country.
Imagine how it would feel to be rejected by the place you had chosen to call your home.