BREXIT fall out is having an enormous emotional and professional impact on the daily lives of European Union citizens living in Stratford some of whom are now seriously considering leaving this country for good.
Stratford’s 48 per cent to 52 per cent vote to leave the EU last year exactly mirrored the national picture but for those foreign nationals who have lived, worked and raised children in this town the shock of last June’s result still haunts them.
Just days after Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap general election on Thursday 8th June, Brexit and its fall out continues to dominate local and national politics and perhaps most significantly, millions of ex-patriates living in this country.
Sophie Clausen, aged 42, from Stratford, who is Danish by birth is one of them.
“I’ve been in the UK for 15 years. Ever since the Brexit vote I have been in a state of limbo. I can’t sleep at night and sub-consciously I feel unsure about how people are reacting to me because I’m European – it feels like there is a question mark hanging over me and the uncertainty is the worst thing. I love Stratford but I may have to go back to Denmark and start all over again from scratch,” Sophie told the Herald.
It won’t be an easy decision. Sophie’s husband is British and they have a three-year-old daughter called Naia who is at nursery. Sophie is also cultural programmes producer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is currently very busy organising performers and volunteers for this Saturday’s Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
Having obtained an MA in art and design at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, she has also held down key jobs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre where she was a senior graphic designer. She was also a cultural officer at the Danish Embassy in London and then spent two years in New York before returning to Stratford which she considers to be her home.
The irony of Sophie’s story is that she was raised in Elsinore, Denmark, the setting of arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet, indeed culture is a passionate part of Sophie’s life but she fears for Britain’s cultural future post Brexit.
“Brexit will change this country’s culture and destiny forever. It will stop young people from travelling to other countries to study. Most importantly for me, I do not want my daughter to grow up in a country that has closed borders – I want to live in a country that embraces the world,” said Sophie.
She’s met with Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi to voice her concerns.
“I was getting extremely anxious and suffering from sleepless nights. I decided to go and see him as he is part of the government. I asked him, “what is the real story? Maybe you can tell me? What if I’m exiled?” He said he would quit if that happened but he’s very happy about Brexit and reassured me the Prime Minister was still negotiating with the European Union. I asked him lots of questions and referred him to articles and interviews in The Guardian and on the BBC and he replied both organisations were left wing. I was just left with a feeling that Britain is cutting ties and burning bridges. I have always felt safe here and I’m very grateful to this country which gives hope to the weak and vulnerable. It was a like living a dream just a year ago but now all that’s changed,” Sophie said.
The worrying plight of Stratford’s European community has stirred Stratford District Councillor Jason Fojtik (Lab, Clopton) to table a motion at the dictrict council’s meeting on Monday. And in a rare display of political allegiance the motion is seconded by Cllr Robert Vaudry (Cons, Bishopton).
The motion – which Cllr Fojtik describes as, “the most important thing” he’s ever done” reads:
“The Council welcomes all EU citizens, who are expatriates from the other 27 EU Member States, and recognises the valuable role they play in our local economy and the provision of public services in Stratford-on-Avon District. EU citizens are an important part of our local community and add to the cultural vitality of the District.
The Council therefore resolves:
- To establish a mechanism to increase the involvement of EU citizens in local decision-making.
- Calls on the Government to end the uncertainty regarding the status of EU citizens currently residing in Stratford-on-Avon by guaranteeing their right to live and work in the UK in the event of the UK leaving the European Union.”
The Brexit fall out has also had social repercussions as well.
Ingrid Stevens, a self-employed German translator from Stratford, who has lived here with her English husband, David, for seven years, said she noticed things change the day after the Brexit vote.
“I always enjoyed the best of contacts with my neighbours but I knew post referendum that a third of them voted for Brexit. People who used to chat with me before don’t do so much now, I feel I’m a foreigner. The 52 per cent who voted in favour of leaving have decided to impoverish their country,” Ingrid said.
Further developments post the EU citizen debate on Monday in this week’s Herald.