Polish Londoner

These are the thoughts and moods of a born Londoner who is proud of his Polish roots.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Why Poles in UK will not be safe after Brexit

So far Brexit has been seen as a measure that would affect Poles who are only now arriving in the UK or are planning to do so. There appears to be a growing presumption that, actually, Poles residing here already are in no danger. Several times politicians and business supporters of Brexit, such as John Longworth at the public meeting on Brexit organized by the United Poles on April 21 in the Ognisko Club in Kensington have assured Poles residing and working here, that they, and their families, "are safe." Wrong! Of course, in the first years after a negative referendum to leave the EU, it is argued that in theory nothing should change. Prime Minister Cameron would have a certain period in which to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon in order to officially start negotiations with the Union on future legal and economic ties between the EU and the UK. These negotiations should officially take up about two years. The most favourable solution for us Poles in case of Brexit would be a model of relations based the current status of Norway or Switzerland where the United Kingdom would continue to have full access to the duty-free single market of the EU but in this case, the United Kingdom would continue to be open to the free movement of not only capital but also of the work force. It is likely that following a victorious referendum campaign the new anti-European policymakers in the British government would not have agreed to this model of relations, aware that it was mainly spooked hostility of the British electorate to all new immigrants which would have been the deciding factor for supporters of Brexit. Restrictions against new immigrants would come into force only after the conclusion of the negotiations, although the feverish national debate on the subject would begin to be felt soon after the referendum. Panicky employers and frightened local officials would be aware that the mood had changed while hysterical right-wing Conservatives and UKIP members vie with each other in seeking harsher solutions for immigrants in general. We are in unknown territory here as such a new form of agreement with the European Union for a former member of the EU is unprecedented. So the atmosphere in the tabloids and in local and national government would be quite tense for Poles right from the beginning after the vote. Various forms of local discrimination could have started, in health services, job centres, schools, places of employment as the future looks more and more uncertain. We know what in these circumstances would face new Polish visitors after the initial two-year period, once EU arrangements no longer apply. Right of entry would only for restricted to tourists and to students who have an assured place at their university, but not for those looking for work. For those who would have obtained an agreed contract to work in advance would now require an entry visas with their work permit (currently £ 575 for contracted workers under three years and £ 1,151 if their contract exceeds three years). Moreover, they would pay £ 200 a year for health insurance. Tuition fees for Polish students would be elevated to the much higher level of ordinary foreign students. This is all as could be expected. But what about the Poles already resident in the UK who are allegedly "safe"? If you are staying here less than five years and have not yet obtained permanent residence any loss of employment would no longer be cushioned by out of work benefits or any low pay by in work benefits. The national living wage would not apply to you once your current job is finished. Theoretically there may even be no guarantee of child benefit, and of course it goes without saying that a benefit for a child who is resident in Poland would be no longer be considered. If the child was not born here he or she would not even be sure of a guaranteed place in the local school. Besides Polish citizens would lose their right to vote in local elections even though they pay council tax, and any travel between Poland and the UK, even for Christmas or for dental treatment, would require a Polish passport, and no longer an ID. If a Pole were to work illegally here or have some minor legal infringement on their record in Poland or the UK they could be stopped at the border and even face permanent expulsion, regardless of whether they have a family here or not. Poles that have been here less than 5 years would be subject to the same conditions as non-EU workers. If already living here, any permit for a new job in the UK would have to be approved by the Home Office and the current cost of a new visa for a 3-year contract for someone already legally in the UK would be £ 664. They would again be subject to the above-mentioned health insurance of £200 per year, regardless of whether they pay National Insurance contribution in this country already. If self-employed you need to be aware that current employees from countries outside the EU have had the right to work only if their earnings are at least £18,600 per year. In April this year the minimum income level was increased to £ 35,000. How many Poles could boast that they get such a salary? Perhaps Poles and other EU nationals here without permanent residence would find ways to alleviate these rules through various appeals based on their human rights, but ultimately all will be subject to what the British government negotiates with the Union. Following a complete break without the right to free movement of labour, bilateral working arrangements with EU countries could be established. Thus, for example, the French or Germans could be treated differently than, say, Poles and Romanians? Here, much will depend on the effectiveness of Polish diplomacy, but that Polish consulates will already be overwhelmed defending the rights of individual Polish families wrong-footed by the new circumstances. Yet even those who already have permanent residence after five years, or even have British citizenship after six years of residence, would still not be free from problems arising from Brexit. The above-mentioned income level of £35,000 would also apply, for example, as the lowest income ceiling for a British citizen seeking to reunite permanently with his wife or child living in Poland. Furthermore to invite your grandmother to look after your children for a longer period would require an official written invitation approved by the Home Office. In the case of access to social benefits, these would be withdrawn if, for family reasons, such a British citizen should wish to live in Poland for a certain period. Besides, even for those British citizens by birth from the post-war Polish immigration would feel the effects of Brexit should they want to live their last years in Poland, and find that their shrinking British pension is no longer index-linked. Am I painting the picture in excessively black colours? Well of course it may never happen. The British may reject Brexit altogether in the referendum in June. Or they may still, after deciding to leave the EU, opt to continue, like Norway and Iceland, within the single market thus largely accepting the terms of free movement of labour, though I think that particular option as being unlikely. Otherwise we are in unmarked territory and anything can be decided dependent on the volatility of public opinion and an unsteady divided government. That is why such a dark scenario is still possible and necessary to consider. It cannot be ruled out. That is why so many Poles and other EU nationals are agreeing with me and are applying in ever larger amounts for British citizenship. According to the Home Office, their number increased by 40% in the last twelve months. Red Squirrel, publishers of the text book "Britishness" which prepares candidates for the exam needed to qualify for British nationality, claim that recently the number of their book sale increased from 550 to 2250 a month. Conversely British citizens who want to continue to travel and work around Europe despite Brexit are beginning to submit applications for citizenship of EU countries such as France and Ireland. For the same reason British citizens of Polish origin, many born here as the second generation of the post-war Polish community, are beginning to file for the Polish citizenship they are entitled to and for Polish passports so that they can continue to own property in Poland and travel around Europe as EU citizens. That is why I still cannot understand why so many Poles living here with British citizenship are thinking about voting for Brexit? Poland is desperate to have the UK remain in the Union as a counterbalance to Germany and France and to head the non-euro block of countries. So pro-Brexit Poles in this country seem oblivious to the national interests of their home country and to the rights of their fellow countrymen in the UK. Polish citizens in the UK without British nationality will no longer have the right to vote in the referendum on 23rd June. They can only watch helplessly as the British electorate decides their fate. But at least the 9744 Polish Londoners without British citizenship who are registered to vote in the mayoral election in London and who constitute 1.5% of the entire London electorate, can still do themselves and Poland one last favour. So far, London has been represented by Boris Johnson, the most flamboyant campaigner for Brexit even though London has largely got a pro-EU bias. Johnson’s Conservative successor as candidate for Mayor, Zac Goldsmith, is also unfortunately a supporter of Brexit. Therefore the patriotic Pole who cares about his country has a clear task in this election. The first vote they can give to Prince Jan Zylinski, the Polish independent candidate, but their second vote should go to a candidate who wants London to remain in the Union. They have a choice between the liberal-democrat Caroline Pidgeon, the Green candidate, Sian Berry, or the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan (although, according to polls, Sadiq Khan has the only chance of defeating Goldsmith). Finally, with a pro-European spokesman for London elected as Mayor with Polish votes, Polish citizens in London can feel they have improved their chance of defeating Brexit and retaining their current legal status of being Polish and EU citizens in this country. Wiktor MoszczyƄski Polish Weekly April 29, 2016