David, an American, moved to London in 2000 to work at a software company when he was in his thirties. He had previously lived in France, and was glad to be back in Europe. There he met Anne, a French woman who was in London to do a Master’s degree and who went on to work at an NGO there. In 2004 he was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. London now felt like home to him, and its cosmopolitanism was one of the things he liked best about it. Through their jobs and volunteer work, they had made friends with people from all over Britain, from elsewhere in Europe, and from many other parts of the world. In 2005, David and Anne got married, and he became a naturalised British citizen. He took citizenship very seriously, and was particularly glad to exercise the right to vote. It was also important to him to gain the freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU.
Over the next few years, they both did PhDs, and their research and careers took them to several different countries, with intermittent periods back in the UK. In 2013 they moved to Germany, where Anne had been offered a fixed-term university teaching job. David found a software development job in Switzerland and commuted across the border. In 2016, as the end of Anne’s job approached, they weighed their options, decided to move to France, and bought a house there.
David voted Remain, and the referendum result came as a terrible shock. Would he still be allowed to live with his family in France after Brexit? Even if he was allowed to stay, what rights would he still have? What would happen if the Brexit negotiations failed to produce an agreement? He could apply for French citizenship by marriage, but this was a very laborious and time-consuming process, requiring mountains of paperwork, and whose outcome was never guaranteed. It seemed unfair to have to ask once again to keep rights that he already had. And it was bitterly disappointing to think that the cosmopolitanism that had made him feel at home in London seemed as if it was being abolished there. Even if they sold the house and moved back to the UK, would Anne be allowed to live there? Reading reports of foreigners being insulted in the street for speaking languages other than English, he worried even about taking their daughter to London on holiday. Born in the UK, she now switched effortlessly between English, French, and German. Would she not be considered British enough in the new Britain, and be told to “go home”?