Polish Londoner

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



Monday, 18 September 2017

Dislodge the Diplomatic Fatberg




I very much welcome the comments, printed in The Times, from the Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis in response to the EU citizens lobby organized on September 13th. He is obviously well intentioned in wanting EU citizens legally here to be able to stay and confirming the need for reciprocal treatment of UK citizens in the EU. He was recognizing the value of the lobby organized for MPs and Lords by the3million (representing the voice of EU citizens in this country), British in Europe (representing the voice of Bits on the continent) and the trade union Unison. More than 600 participated in the lobby which was met by more than 60 MPs including Sir Keir Starmer, Labour spokesman on Brexit and Lib-Dem leader Sir Vince Cable.
What Mr Lewis still needs to understand is that while the British offer of settled status may look good on paper it is based on Immigration Rules which are riddled with exceptions and provisos that his own officials in the Home Office will be using to limit the number of EU nationals currently in this country. After the Brexit cut off date EU citizens will have no recourse to any international body to defend their rights. In fact it means that all 3.2 million EU citizens will first be deprived of their current status of eligibility for permanent residence and will then have to reapply in the space of just 2 to 3 years for a new status, the so-called "settled status", which will be selective and not available to all of them.
Nobody believes the Home Office staff can do this fairly, or on time. The current uncertainty over their status is causing acute agony to EU citizens, especially for parents of young British-born children, some of whom have actually had their British passports taken away.
The UK government owes EU citizens, who came here legally and have contributed so much to the UK economy and to the social and cultural fabric of this country, a better deal than settled status, namely one which confirms their acquired rights, rather than dispenses them anew. It is better to simply recognize the right to stay of all 3.2 million citizens currently here, unless they are personally an immediate threat to the security of society.
There is a precedent for this. In 1947 all Polish soldiers and attendant civilians, whether in the UK or in Western European camps, were granted the right to stay in this country under the Polish Resettlement Act, with no questions asked. It protected them from deportation to a Communist Poland. It was a special moment which had arisen out of a sense of obligation to some 300,000 Poles uprooted by the UK breaking its alliance treaty obligations to defend Poland's independence.
Now again we have a special moment with the UK having an obligation to uprooted EU citizens, because of their sovereign decision to break their treaty of accession to the European Union. It means that with a simple administrative process in 2019 all these citizens' rights to stay in this country will be confirmed, as happened in 1947. Such a statement by the Prime Minister in Italy this week would also break the ice on the diplomatic fatberg currently blocking the negotiations and allow the EU negotiators to give a green light for discussing future trade relations, so desperately desired by the UK government negotiators.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

EU citizens in UK like cancer patients

Dzien dobry, London.
Today I’m addressing you on behalf of more than 1 million Polish citizens left stranded here by the disastrous Brexit referendum and its equally shocking aftermath.
The Polish presence here and that of other EU citizens was both a symbol of the UK’s economic success story and an important contributor to that success. EU citizens contribute on balance £12.1bln annually to the exchequer. The Polish diaspora in the UK has contributed also to the economic prosperity and the social and cultural fabric of their local community, with their commercial enterprises, their food shops, their “pączki” (doughnuts), places of worship and their motivated workers, who were also consumers, concert goers, sports fans, students and school children.
In turn, Polish citizens too saw the UK as their new home. They have settled with their families. On average 22,000 children of Polish mothers are born here every year and there are currently 187,000 Polish children in this country below the age of 14, the overwhelming majority of whom saw their future in this country. Well you can imagine the devastating effect of the referendum on those children, when they came into school that Friday morning, traumatized by their shell-shocked parents, only to be asked by their schoolmates, “So when are you going back to Poland”.
Leave campaigners had assured EU citizens that they will not have to leave and their acquired rights in this country will be affirmed. Yet the government has failed to give a formal guarantee of their stay, and when the EU negotiators put forward concrete proposals as to how permanent residence status could be extended after Brexit, the UK government counter-proposed with something called “settled Status”.
I can think of nothing more unsettling than settled status. Superficially it promises the right to stay permanently, but It actually begins with abolishing permanent residence status completely on the cut-off date so that everyone of the 3.2 million EU citizens must reapply again in the space of 2 or 3 years to obtain their new status. Immigration rules will not grant the new status out of hand, but will have so many provisos, about time of stay, past history, maternity rights, levels of income, uniting families. Also, any appeals will not have the protection from EU legislation. We have seen the early impact with Poles and other residents already receiving illegal notices of deportations while Polish children born here who had already obtained British passports are having them taken away.
Currently Polish and other EU citizens, including their children, sit in an alternative world, like cancer patients, who outwardly appear to live the same life as those around them but are faced with growing and stressful uncertainty about their own future and their families’ future in this country. Should they still register their children for school, should they buy a house, should they wind up their business, should they invest back in their original homeland? They are stuck in the country they once loved and admired, between the prejudices and taunts in the street or in the pages of the “Daily Mail” on the one side and the bureaucratic negativity of the Home Office on the other.
This nightmare existence of EU citizens must end now and the UK government must agree a new deal with the EU in the October round of negotiations which will end the stress and the uncertainty.

Wiktor Moszczynski Author of “Hello I’m Your Polish Neighbour”
Speech at the3million rally 13th September 2017 - Trafalgar Square, London

Saturday, 9 September 2017

EU citizens have all moved ….. to Limboland

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Dzien dobry, London.
Today I’m addressing you on behalf of more than 1 million Polish citizens left stranded here by the disastrous Brexit referendum and its equally shocking aftermath.
Of course, we are only part, admittedly the largest part of the many cohorts of EU citizens left stranded here by that man-made catastrophe, which has undermined Britain’s currency and thrown the UK’s political, economic and cultural future into chaos.
The Polish presence here and that of other EU citizens was both a symbol of the UK’s economic success story and an important contributor to that success. Treasury statistics show that in the tax year 2013/2014 European Economic Area citizens have paid in £12.1bln more into the exchequer than they have drawn out. All these European communities, spread ethnically as well as geographically around the country, contributed also to the economic prosperity and the social and cultural fabric of the community, with their commercial enterprises, their food shops, their places of worship and their motivated workers, who were also concert goers, sports fans, students and school children.
In turn, they too saw the UK as their new home, even though most of them came here not expecting to stay, but more with a sense of adventures. Now they have settled with their families. On average 22,000 children of Polish mothers are born here every year, a sure sign of their optimism about their future in Britain, as well as a welcome counterbalance to the UK’s ageing population The ONS estimate for 2015 was 187,000 Polish children in this country below the age of 14, the overwhelming majority of whom saw themselves as citizens of this country. Well you can imagine the devastating effect of the referendum on those children, when they came into school that Friday morning, traumatized by their shell-shocked parents, only to be asked by their schoolmates, “So when are you going back to Poland”.
Well the Leave campaigners had assured EU citizens that they will not have to leave and their acquired rights in this country will be affirmed. Initially they trusted them, but the government while promising everything, has refused to give a formal guarantee of their stay, and when the EU negotiators put forward concrete proposals as to how permanent residence status could be extended after Brexit, they counter-proposed with something called “settled Status”.
I can think of nothing more unsettling than settled status. Superficially it promises the right to stay permanently, but It begins with the very negative decision about abolishing permanent residence status completely on the cut-off date so that everyone of the 3.2 million EU citizens must reapply again in the space of 2 or 3 years to obtain their new status. Even now with permanent residence applications there are so many provisos, about time of stay, past history, maternity rights, levels of income, uniting families. If this were to be applied to a settled status then as a promise it would be almost worthless, especially as these provisos are to be governed by that well known caring magnanimous institution called the Home Office. This is the institution that has 15 miles of shelved paperwork waiting to be investigated and where current PR applications would take more than 10 years to resolve. Also, any appeals will be governed by new UK immigration laws without any protection from EU legislation. We have seen the impact with Poles and other residents already receiving illegal notices of deportations while Polish children born here who had already obtained British passports are having them taken away.
If you are British citizens, you may not have noticed this yet but Polish citizens have already moved. They no longer live in the United Kingdom. They now live in Limboland, unsure of their future, or the future of their families and their jobs. They did not cross any borders, the borders crossed them and they sit alongside you on the London tube or at work but with anxieties and priorities of which you are not even aware, alienated from the security of being a citizen of this country. They are stuck between the prejudices and taunts of xenophobic bullies in the street or in the pages of the “Daily Mail” on the one side and the bureaucratic negativity of the Home Office on the other. And this was a country they had loved previously for its seeming freedom, resilience, tolerance, entrepreneurial possibilities and sense of security. Not surprising then that one EU citizen recently wrote “A bit of me is dying here….”
This nightmare existence of EU citizens must end, which is why the3million and other organizations are holding a mass lobby here on Wednesday of Parliament and holding a further rally on behalf of EU citizens at Trafalgar Square at 6pm. Either the UK government negotiates a proper safe settlement of EU citizens’ rights, or better still it calls a halt to the whole Brexit process and calls for a new referendum based on the sheer revealed impracticality and injustice of leaving the EU.
Thank you for coming and for listening.


Wiktor Moszczynski Author of “Hello I’m Your Polish Neighbour”
Speech at People March against Brexit 9th September 2017 - Parliament Square, London


Sunday, 3 September 2017

Against a Settled Status

This is a translation of my current column in Polish on "Settled Status"


The recent statement by the Federation of Poles in Gt Britain and the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) on the rights of EU citizens (including Poles) in the United Kingdom is already a testament to the looming decisive battle over these rights. On the one hand, we have a disciplined EU delegation, headed by former French Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, representing 27 EU states, but effectively executing the decisions of the well-coordinated central authority of the European Union - the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. And on the other hand, we have a wavering British delegation, headed by DExEU minister David Davis, representing a government which changes its mind every week on its stance on leaving the EU.
Both sides have set a goal until the end of October this year to find a common agreement on the rights of EU and UK citizens, a financial settlement and the future nature of the Irish border. The aim of the EU is to settle these matters first, before tackling issues more precious to the UK side such as future trade relations, the future of the single market, or co-operation in the field of science, and the British side has reluctantly had to accept this. The framework of these remaining issues would have to be negotiated in the remaining 20 months in order to finally negotiate and legally agree on a final Withdrawal Agreement by March 2019. So, If they cannot keep up with the timetable for this first phase of negotiations by October this year, there may not be the time and even the willpower to negotiate a final deal by 2019.
It was at this crucial moment in the eve of battle that the Presidents of the Federation and POSK issued their press release. In their joint statement, the Polish community leaders pointed to the need for a speedy deal to safeguard the confidence of EU citizens about their future in the country. They also recalled that the British had a precedent for making a generous gesture when in 1947 they decided to allow Polish refugees a permanent stay in the UK under the Polish Resettlement Act. But our chairmen opted to maintain neutrality with both sides of the negotiations, counting on their good will.
Unfortunately, this good will has not yet materialized, although there is already agreement on a few issues related to citizens, such as the future of the European Health Insurance Card. But the main breakthrough on citizenship is not yet visible. Polish wishes about retaining full acquired rights may eventually be fulfilled, either through a good compromise, which has not yet been revealed, or by the surrender of one of the sides. But which one?
Let us examine what their main differences are. The European side believes that, despite the Brexit referendum decision, the full rights of EU citizens should be preserved in full and guaranteed by the European Court of Justice. Consequently, the status of permanent residence would be maintained which gives EU citizens similar rights to UK citizens, including the right of residence, employment without discrimination, access to health care and social security benefits. This right is to be granted to all those who have come here or are yet to come, including their immediate family, before the final date of leaving the EU, including those who have not yet completed their statutory five-year residency requirements as they will be granted the chance to complete those five years while continuing to work in this country. This is undoubtedly the best offer for us Poles. But it could be improved further by ensuring these rights to EU citizens and their children are for life, that EU citizens can be united with their families even after the Brexit cut off date and that the final agreement on the rights of EU and UK citizens can be sealed by an international treaty between Britain and the EU countries before the final talks on other aspects of exit are concluded. The last requirement may seem eccentric but it is this ring-fencing of an early agreement which guarantees its survival should the remaining talks eventually fail to keep to their deadline and there is no final Withdrawal Agreement.
But the British side has a completely different offer. It proclaims that its proposal matches the same guarantees as those made by the EU, but at its base it lacks conviction. It wants to liquidate the legal status of the EU based permanent residence, and replace it with something called "settled status", which can only by guaranteed by UK law and answerable to a British judiciary, outside the jurisdiction of the European Court. At present, this proposal is unacceptable for EU negotiators on the basis that it is not a sufficient guarantee for the rights of EU citizens present here. It is also unacceptable for organizations like "the3million" representing the voice of almost three and half a million EU citizens or "British in Europe", representing at least 1 million British citizens in Spain, France and other EU countries. It should also be unacceptable to Poles in the UK.
Why is the "settled status" proposal so damaging?
First of all, because it takes away the current legal status of Polish and other EU citizens from the A8 countries here since 2004, as well as for citizens from Western and Southern Europe, who have spent 30 odd years here or more. All their material, spiritual and cultural achievements and their legally acquired rights during many years of hard struggle to build a new home here in Britain would be set at nought. The new Polish mini-homeland in the UK set up by Polish businesses and Polish families would be dismantled and those who have obtained the hard-won permanent residency status, as well as the subsequent possibility of UK citizenship, would have to begin all over again, except that this will no longer be a confirmation of an existing status, but an application for a new status. The old permanent residency should have been automatic under EU law. Despite that for many Poles it was finally reachable only after a hefty fee and after completing an 82-page questionnaire and a half-year wait. For others, legally resident and legally employed here, obtaining residency had become an insurmountable barrier and now a cause for particular stress in the present stage of uncertainty. Suddenly, for hundreds of thousands of Polish families, even this hard-won status of permanent residence is now being questioned. Poles are feeling the ground collapsing under their feet.
Secondly, the new status is based on UK legislation and, in particular, on immigration law. Every Polish or English lawyer will confirm that there is no more Byzantine labyrinth of administrative regulations and legal quirks than the Home Office manual based on a specific interpretation of UK legislation. No such official decision by the Border Agency employee needs to be justified to the victim of a decision or to a third party. Suffice it to say that the clerk, submerged by a sea of applications and needing to demonstrate appropriate professional zeal, will find some shortcomings in the documentation or even harbour just a suspicion that not all in an application is correct, and so is still able to refuse an application. Even if his or her decision explicitly breaks official regulations, it is difficult to prove it. An official does not have to explain anything, even when the media intervenes, or the MP, or even a minister. Sometimes, as we have seen with the case of more than one hundred illegal letters sent to EU citizens demanding an immediate departure, even they themselves have admitted to mistakes albeit under pressure from the press. But despite the protests and interventions of consuls and advice centres, a number of people have actually been expelled from the UK despite the right of residence, because they were sick, or temporarily homeless or had a former conviction. Sure, many Poles might shrug their shoulders at this, but these expulsions were a contravention of EU Directive 2004/38 / EC, art. 27, which explains under which conditions one EU country may expel a citizen of another country, only if the suspect is individually a clear and present danger to society. At least until March 2019, EU law still applies here. The Home Office breaks this law knowingly so that ministers can have some kind of immigrant meat to feed to rabid "Daily Mail" readers. There is a British proverb - "the thin end of the wedge". If officials are doing this now when they are still bound by EU conventions then how will they behave in post-Brexit Britain without these restrictions?
Thirdly, if the British were finally to achieve a recognition for "settled status" in the negotiations, and would have acquired the 3 years transitional period which they are requesting in order to complete the transformation of the country into a new post-Brexit order, they would have to register and issue ID cards or similar certificates to more than 3 million EU citizens over the 3 or 4 years period. Even with the help of local governments and their records, which I have urged on Home Office officials, I still think that they would not be able to carry out this task, or to complete it fairly. Currently they are already bogged down by the number of applications from several thousands of residents just seeking to complete permanent residence applications. If they are left in charge of handling applications for a new status then I fear the list of expelled Poles and other EU citizens, along with their UK born children, would be even longer, despite the PM's assertion that "no one is to be expelled".
The sole justification for “settled status” lies in the fact that it appears to confirm the new sovereignty of the United Kingdom after Brexit and the exclusion of the powers of the European Court of Justice in this country. There is a high administrative price to pay, however, to satisfy such a gesture.
The only hope lies in obtaining an agreement on the introduction of another court of appeal recognized by the British Supreme Court and the European Court, which would allow for the further survival of the permanent residence status, but with an accelerated approval procedure.

September 13 is the next opportunity for mass lobbying by EU citizens and their friends to convince newly elected MPs to require their own government to propose a more fair and efficient system for registering EU citizens after Brexit. Poles should also be there demanding an immediate end to the uncertainty and a prompt agreement of the framework for a new status confirming the existing rights of EU citizens legally residing here, while the proposal for a "settled status" should be ditched.
Wiktor Moszczyński 2 September 2017
I attach a link for people wanting to register their participation in the parliamentary mass lobby on 13 September: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mass-lobby-for-rights-of-eu-citizens-in -the-uk-british-citizens-in-the-eu-tickets-35863169706.