I was offered a job in Belgium in 1995, working in the European offices of a large British company, and my wife and I jumped at the opportunity. We saw it as a way of bringing up our children with the advantage of being bilingual and of experiencing other cultures, as well as all the travel advantages of being on the continent. We arrived in early 1996 with a 5 month old baby and have been here ever since. 2 more children were born here: all three have been educated in local schools and have grown up fully bilingual, with experience of a very international community. They have only ever known the free movement and openness of the European Union, Schengen and the Euro. We feel very integrated in Belgian life: my wife is head teacher of a Belgian school, we both speak fluent French and a bit of Flemish. The whole family has been involved in many activities, both Belgian organisations and with the large international community here. We’ve bought a house, and sold our British home many years ago, although of course we both still have family in Britain and visit several times a year. Now our two oldest children are at university, coincidentally both in the UK, but with no clear idea of where to go next.
The Leave vote was like a bombshell for us, introducing immediate uncertainty about our future. What would it mean for our position in Belgium, the country we now call home? Would my wife be able to continue in her job, which is officially a civil servant role, normally only open to EU nationals? How would this affect our children’s ability to use their languages to live and work across Europe? Would it affect my youngest son’s ambitions to join the Belgian Air Cadets, also only open to EU nationals? Would we be restricted on where we might choose to retire? My wife and two older children immediately applied for Belgian nationality, just to take away any uncertainty. My youngest son received Belgian nationality as soon as my wife gained it (after 2 appeals thanks to typical Belgian bureaucracy!), so now I’m the only one who hasn’t become Belgian. Although we can have dual British / Belgian nationality, I find it a pity to have to do this, just to maintain the rights which we thought were ours for life.