Ellie Rowe recounts her experience of a final pre-Brexit vacation, and imagines a very different Europe just a few months from now.
Sitting in the largest ruin pub in Budapest this summer, my travel pal and I made friends with two American girls ‘doing Europe’ for the first time. “God, you’re so lucky,” they cried, “you can come to Europe whenever you want!”. True, I thought – but for how much longer?
One of the best things (and probably one of the only things I know) about being in the European Union is that EU citizens have free movement rights. This means that we can travel freely throughout most of the continent and can choose in which EU country we want to study, work or retire. Financial situation-dependent, it has meant weekend trips to Amsterdam, long breaks in Portugal during reading week or interrailing over the summer have been possible at the drop of a hat. We can hop on a train and be in Paris in the same amount of time it takes me to travel from Bristol to Sheffield. Once in Paris, we can pop pretty much anywhere without visas and with minimal questioning. Or at least, we could. The post-Brexit status of Brits’ free movement rights is uncertain and highly dependent on whether we leave with a deal. But, it’s entirely probable that travelling to and from Europe, as we have done with ease for so long, is going to become a lot more complicated.
It already has.
This summer, a half-French friend of mine travelled to Turkey with her French passport. The issue was not with travelling to Turkey (which, technically, is not European but transcontinental being 95% in Asia and 5% in Europe), but with returning from Turkey to London on a French passport. This friend has visited Turkey consecutively for the last three years, and up until this year she had not experienced any problems. However, when returning from Turkey this year, she was stopped and asked to prove her residency in UK by corroborating her London address on her passport. Not only was this extremely stressful for her, but it speaks to the wider precarious position of European citizens living in the UK whilst Brexit is being ‘negotiated’. It works both ways, too. Coming back from the tiny airport in Genoa, our British passports were heavily scrutinised before we even reached security.
Beyond travelling, the freedom to choose whether to study and work in any European country is also in jeopardy. For many students whose degree requires them to do a year abroad, plans are scarily uncertain. My boyfriend, who studies Spanish and Portuguese, currently receives continuous emails on what Brexit may mean for his plans to work in Portugal from February 2020. If we leave with no deal on October 31st or any time after, he may not be able to go.
Travelling around Europe this summer had a bittersweet feel to it. On the one hand, our ability to travel to Europe will not be completely eradicated with a no-deal Brexit. It probably won’t be the last time I visit. Leaving the EU doesn’t mean we’re divorcing the continent. Europe will not disappear. But the ease, spontaneity, and cheap Ryanair flights might. My friends from elsewhere in Europe face a lengthy process of applying for their residency and there is always the risk that their applications will not be successful. To the best of my knowledge, the Erasmus+ scheme hasn’t been affected so far, but in the event of no-deal, everything might change.
Thus, as the October 31st deadline loomed and the promise of everything changing hovered over me, I felt as though this was my last chance to enjoy a semi-friendly relationship with people in European countries before they consider all Brits to be bumbling fools. A few people I met this summer told me that they just ‘don’t understand’ what has happened in British politics over the last few years. You and me both, my friends. We already have a contentious relationship with Europe – think the stereotypical ‘Brit abroad’ who has turned places like Ibiza and Ayia Napa into a permanent edition of The Sun. Now, it makes me sad to think that I will be associated with a nation that wants to continue to benefit off the labour and tourism trade of European citizens, without offering them anything in return.
I guess all I can do is hope that we make it out with as good a deal as possible…and I certainly hope that it doesn’t have to be arrivederci Roma.
Artwork by Rivka Cocker.