The current Brexit pandemonium has not only unsettled UK nationals. Last Thursday evening, visitors of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre witnessed a certainly heated atmosphere, heavy with frustration from the Nordic front of Europe. What was supposed to be an informative, tame event on the implications of the UK’s departure from the EU quickly transformed into an exasperated outcry and display of outright dissatisfaction by the Nordic nationals inhabiting the UK.
Shortly before 6 pm of the last day of January, Swedes, Finns, and Icelanders -among other Nordic EU and EFTA inhabitants of the UK- gathered at the Sidlaw auditorium of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, eager to find more about the status and rights of Nordic citizens living in the UK after Brexit. The event, organized by the Danish, Icelandic, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish Embassies of the UK, featured three speakers; Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the EU, a representative from the Justice, Security and Migration Directorate at DExEU and Blanca Grey from the EU Exit Team at the Home Office.
Minister Walker’s opened the evening with the heart-warming remarks of how “we need to remember that the UK is not leaving Europe” and that the EU citizens are Britain’s “friends, neighbours and colleagues – we want them to stay.” The corny reminders of how the British occasionally enjoy listening to tunes by Björk and try to piece IKEA furniture together, however, hardly warmed the hearts of the audience who later heavily criticized the minister for his departure before the Q and A segment of the event.
The second speaker from the Department of Migration– who has been requested to remain anonymous,- left sentiments aside and cut right to the chase, guaranteeing the economic and voting rights and rights of education and healthcare of all EU and EFTA nationals and reassuring that they “will be treated as UK nationals” regardless of a Deal or No Deal scenario. He also mentioned that according to current agreements, close family members of EU nationals will also be able to move into the UK and “live freely with the same EU rights.”
It was when the rather ambiguous concepts of “settled” and “pre-settled” statuses were mentioned that the crowd grew deeply restless and loud remarks of discontent began to fill the auditorium. As the third speaker Blanca Grey from the Home Department, attempted to simplify the apparently mandatory settled and pre-settled status applications, the audience burst into laughter as Grey regrettably admitted that the smartphone registration App is only currently available on Android phones – meaning iPhone users will have to either borrow an Android device or fill in their applications the old-fashioned way; with pen and paper. The online application will require EU and EFTA nationals to prove their identity, proof of residence in the UK and declarations of any criminal convictions with the whole process expected to only take 1 to 3 weeks according to the results of the Private Beta (2) testing conducted earlier in December.
The emotionally charged evening reached its peak when the moment for the Q and A section came. The segment was opened with the disapproval of the term ‘vulnerable’ to describe elderly people who are not particularly ‘tech-savvy’ and the ironically simple question, by a UK resident of 50 years from Iceland, “so, what if we don’t bother (completing the settled status application)?” The speakers answered by stating that failing to apply for a ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status by the deadline of June 2021 would put any previously enjoyed EU and EFTA rights into jeopardy. The ironic tone was adopted by various, seemingly sullen, audience members with questions including “(with Brexit on the way) what even are the benefits of a UK citizenship?” Another audience member pointed out the irony of the “road to leading nowhere” depicted in the background of the stage.
The lightweight silliness was quickly replaced with serious concern when the question of what happens to the data produced in the filling in of the application with the smartphone app, arose. A dismayed citizen then declared that her personal research on the particular issue revealed that in order to complete the application using the smartphone app, users have to accept their data being used and shared with not only public but also private corporations. Such facts did not only startle the audience but also seemed to stagger the speakers, who then promised to look into the allegations.
As for the burning question of what happens to students and tuition fees, the speakers were only able to answer that students are also expected to apply for either a settled or pre-settled status in order to preserve their rights while the fate of tuition fees for intakes after 2020, still remains unknown.
It is no secret that the uncertainty of Brexit has shaken up and turned the world upside down for both UK natives and non-native residents. While the future seems uncertain it seems impossible to keep up with the constant stream of changes, plot twists and turns. Whether Deal, No Deal or perhaps even No Brexit prevails, only time will ultimately show what the much anticipated date of the 29th of March will bring.
* Settled status: the status that allows EU and EFTA residents of 5 years or more to preserve their rights and continue living in the United Kingdom
* Pre-settled status: the status that allows EU and EFTA residents of under 5 years to preserve their rights and continue living in the United Kingdom. Upon fulfilling 5 years of permanent residence in the UK, receivers of pre-settled status can apply for a settled status