This is my forty-second and last term as a teacher.
I don’t want it to be. But last year’s referendum means that it will be.
My wife is an EU national. German, since you ask.
She came here eight years ago, to marry me. She’s a lawyer, and thereby entitled to practise law in the UK because EU law requires mutual recognition of such qualifications.
Since then she’s worked ‘in house’ for a bank. She has just been promoted.
But she’s also been offered a relocation to Frankfurt. And she’s going to accept it, and I’m going with her.
Why has she been offered this relocation? Her firm already has a Frankfurt office, and they are, of course, making contigency plans for the UK’s withdrawal from the Single Market.
Does she have to go? No. She could continue in her job here. I don’t really think, much as our Prime Minister loves a good deportation, that in the absence of a deal there will actually be a repatriation of EU citizens. Mrs Grumpy is the mother of two British citizens, the wife of another, and in permanent full-time employment. I’d like to think that if anyone is safe, she is.
Can we apply for permanent residency? The Home Office is discouraging it. Mrs Grumpy has been here for more than five years, but it might be that she cannot satisfy the now-infamous health insurance criterion: she has twice been on maternity leave. Does that count? We don’t know. I expect she’d also struggle to provide a comprehensive record of absence from this country: she has returned to the Fatherland on both business and pleasure several times each year. Perhaps we could use bank and credit card statements to establish just when and for how long. Hopefully. We don’t know.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has now twice emailed its members to say ‘we know lots of you are worried about whether you’ll be able to be registered with us after the UK leaves the EU: we can’t give you an answer at the moment.’ So there is at least a chance that she will no longer be able to practise law after Brexit. This might make it difficult for her to find another job. Not that she’s looking for one at the moment, but it may be that her firm does rather less from this country in future, and again the answer is that we don’t know.
Could we take the hit if an officious border guard, post-Brexit, decides that Mrs Grumpy should be detained at Heathrow after flying back from a meeting, or seeing our family? I suppose so. I’m well aware that many people who don’t have the advantages of coming from a wealthy white country have to worry about this. If she’s coming back with our children, would their British passports make a difference? We don’t know.
What happens if we divorce? Or indeed if I die? Does she get to bring her new German spouse to live here? Or can my mother-in-law move here to help bring up our children? We don’t know.
Fortunately, we have a relatively easy way out.
Eighty years ago my Jewish grandparents arrived here as refugees. They were German citizens, and as part of its determination to atone for the past the Federal Republic has a policy that it will restore the citizenship, not just of those who lost it during the National Socialist period, but their descendants too. So after the referendum I filled in a few forms, procured a few documents, and presented them to the German Embassy in London; and by the end of the year I had received my certificate of naturalisation. (Or, to use the German term, of Wiedereinbürgerung – becoming a citizen again.) So we’re lucky actually: I can emigrate to Germany without difficulty.
I’m pretty peeved that it’s come to this. Our family is, or at least we thought it was, a settled part of our community. It’s not just that my wife works, obeys the law, and pays her taxes. She volunteers at a local primary school, listening to children read. The birth of two children has embedded her, through those groups of new mothers which are forged by health visitors, in village life.
In some ways she’ll never be fully English, of course. Her tea-making is still shocking. And, having arrived in 2009, she doesn’t quite ‘get’ the feeling that an Ashes victory over Australia really is a cause for massive celebration: she can, of course, intellectually grasp that this isn’t traditionally a contest of equals, that people of our age spent their entire adolescents getting a hammering off the Australians, and that we remain convinced even from the most commanding of positions that the England team will somehow manage to foul things up – she understands this when I explain it to her, but I know that secretly she just can’t quite see why we get so worked up about beating a mediocre Australian side.
In some ways, though, she really is. Her German accent is nearly gone: it only really emerges when she watches the Six Nations on television, and shouts, like a female Brian Moore, “Referee! From the side!” (Yes, she knows the laws of rugby union. I told you. She’s integrated.) She’s a monarchist who proudly showed her parents around the royal sites of London, and spent William & Kate’s wedding day glued (as they used to say) to the television. And she has become very attached to the Church of England. Perhaps we don’t appreciate this sort of thing enough, but when she’s told that ‘all communicant members of Christian churches’ does indeed include her (she’s Catholic) and that of course she is welcome to take Holy Communion in our parish church, then yes, she feels very much part of this country.
But not any more.
Before the referendum campaign it seemed that there were two types of Leaver: the souverainistes and the Faragists. I can remember when eurosceptics were obsessed with sovereignty and intensely relaxed about immigration.
There is still a clear distinction, of course. But as Vote Leave embraced the anti-immigration agenda there was a distinct change in approach from souverainistes. They appeared to discover – or to voice – for the first time the dangers of immigration.
I don’t think we’re a threat to social cohesion. I don’t think that our Leave-voting friends think so either. But they had a choice to make.
Am I disappointed that they voted as they did? Of course. I wish they’d thought of us and our situation and made it a higher priority. Can I blame them? Of course not. I celebrated Labour’s 1997 General Election victory – I’d have voted Labour, but was just too young – even though I knew that Labour’s education policy would deprive my best friend’s youngest brother of an assisted place at our independent school. I’ve no moral high ground to stand on.
Some Leavers are, I know, embarrassed that they associated with Nigel Farage and his anti-immigration agenda. But not that many, actually. To win the referendum it became necessary to argue that immigration from the EU was bad; and so a fair number of people conveniently found that they believed the arguments they were making. And faced with the difficulty of explaining how the Westminster system was more democratic than the institutions of the European Union, they fell back on the only explanation which made sense: democracy depends on the nation state.
Is it an intellectually coherent position to hold that immigration is bad? Of course it is. I don’t agree with it, but nor do I claim that those holding it are racist, or ignorant, or wicked.
(I am, though, a little suspicious of those who argue that free movement of people does great damage to the social fabric of the community, even if on aggregate it brings economic benefit, and that it should therefore be restricted, if they don’t also accept that free movement of goods and services and capital do too.)
I don’t think the 52%’s views are illegitimate. I accept that the UK will be leaving the EU. I see that there is a mandate for a ‘hard Brexit’ or, if you prefer, a ‘clean Brexit’. The people have spoken. I don’t like referendums, but we’re about to elect a House of Commons which will have an overwhelming mandate to take the UK out of the EU.
And yet I’m somehow cheered by my fellow Remoaning Remainiacs. It does provide me with some solace to go on to Twitter and to see that others are as distraught as I am.
Because much as I agree that the will of the people is clear, my family can’t be part of this society any more. It’s not just that all sorts of things might happen in years to come, though they might, and if they do then the longer we leave it the worse it’ll be for our children (currently four and two): at the moment they’re young enough to adapt easily to a new country, a new culture, a new language.
No, it’s more that we’re not wanted here. Eight years ago my wife left her country to come here. Now it’s time for me to return the favour. I can’t expect her to stay here while we discuss just what position in society she ought to be permitted.
So we’re off. This summer, we’re moving to Frankfurt. I have a TEFL course lined up and hopefully I’ll pick up some work teaching English as a foreign language. Maybe I’ll write a book: I’ve produced enough of my own teaching resources over fourteen years to think I might be able to produce a decent textbook or two. I’m hoping to join a rugby club (yes, there are some). I’m going to work on my German. And we’ll see what happens.
I’ll miss teaching History and Politics. I’ll miss coaching rugby and cricket. I’ll miss my colleagues and my pupils. And I’ll miss England.