In October 2018 we travelled to the UK from our home in Valpolicella, Italy, to await the arrival of our first granddaughter.
Before the referendum I had trusted my country, secure in the knowledge that it was still in some way my home. I believed in the system and had sent my daughter there to study, never thinking it would be an issue when she got married and settled in the UK. My husband had always enjoyed our trips to England, and felt at home there, so now that we had time we started looking around to see what kind of accommodation we could afford if we wanted to stay for longer after the baby was born. In the end the wait was longer than we expected, so we looked around a number of apartments, but none seemed right for us until we found a retirement community with a perfect independent first floor flat with gardens on both sides and delightful staff who convinced Mario that he would be very welcome. To cut a long story short, we put in an offer and the offer was accepted.
At the time I was helping out with the social media campaign for British in Europe (BiE), and their top legal team, who were fighting in Brussels and in London for the rights of British citizens who were about to lose their freedom of movement along with their European citizenship. I gradually came to realise that things weren’t going to be the same in the future, and I asked Jeremy Morgan QC, vice chair of BiE, if we could be certain that we would be able to live together in the UK in our retirement. Unfortunately at that time he couldn’t give us a clear answer other than to say that he and the BiE team would fight for our rights to remain the same after Brexit. The more we thought about it, the less certain It became and in the end we decided it was just too risky. If Mario wasn’t allowed to move to the UK on a permanent basis, we could forget our plans to live near our grandchildren in our old age, so reluctantly we called the agent and informed them that we were unable to go ahead with the purchase.
The matter came to a head with the Immigration Bill which reached the House of Lords on 21 October 2020. British in Europe had organised an amendment to the Bill which would have removed the deadline for British citizens resident in the EU who wanted to return to the UK with their spouses, which would simply have carried over into English law the right to family reunion, a basic right for EU citizens. The amendment had the support of the Lib Dems, the SNP and Labour Front Benches as well as the Greens, and even a few Conservatives who understood the issue voted for the amendment. The House of Lords passed the amendment but on its return to the Commons the Government used its majority to squash it and, despite a valiant rear-guard action by the Lib Dems, the Lords gave up the unequal struggle against an intransigent Conservative Government. So that was the end of that. I have no idea why they would refuse to grant us this right which would only apply to those British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, so not many of us, but as we no longer have a vote, I suppose they just didn’t care, and most of them probably didn’t understand the issues.
Even now, after all the demos, all the petitions, all the letters to MPs, all the support from the legal team at British in Europe, I’m still reeling to find that the UK government voted against my right to return to the UK with Mario after March 2022, unless he suddenly becomes very well off (money seems to be what you need to belong these days..) At the moment we are not ready to make that choice, I no longer trust my country, and although we would love to be near the girls (there are two of them now), we will have to make do with short visits.
Here’s a photo of a broken breakwater I took the day I found out that the UK government had turned down the amendment, sinking any hope we had of being able to choose if and when to move back to the UK together to be near our wonderful family in the remaining years of our lives.
by Anne Parry, British, living in Italy
First published 24.10.2020 – Updated May 2021
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