Sunday 26 June 2016

Letter I just sent to the local MP (Brexit)

Dear [Name] MP,
I’m writing to you after the political earthquake that shook the UK and the tremors I’m already beginning to feel in my own life and that of my partner and friends.
I’m a German national who made [borough] their home in 2005. After having met on the internet, my English partner first came to live with me in Germany as I needed to finish my degree. Germany was going through one of its mini recessions; as a history graduate, I couldn’t find a job, and neither could my partner. I was then looking to join the German army as an officer both for the job security and because I believe in the mission of peace-keeping and reconstruction that the German army was largely devoted to, but when I faced the choice between possibly leaving my partner behind while I served an 8-/12-year term, my partner told me: “Why not move to London? You’ll find a job there. You have a degree and you speak English.”
I didn’t at first believe him. I’d been disheartened by too many “Do you want to make pizza or drive a taxi” jibes from the German equivalent of the job centre. Leaving my family, my life, my friends, my language and my country behind with nothing to go on but my partner’s optimism was scary.
I arrived in [Borough] in March 2005. I was determined that regardless of my education, I’d take the first job offered, regardless of pay, and had a job not six weeks later. I ended up translating German product descriptions in a data farm, doing very basic, very repetitive work for £13,000/year as a bilingual graduate. Within a couple of weeks, management realised my potential and I was quickly promoted into quality control. At £17,000, that was a big step for me, but the boost was mostly psychological. This land of opportunity for hard-working, honest workers my partner spoke about – that apparently actually existed. Within a year, I’d moved on to the research team (22K), but then I realised that data farming wasn’t what I wanted to do.
So I moved on into financial journalism (20K) – and I was hired because I’m German. The job required talking to financial professionals in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, hobnobbing at conferences, watching both the UK financial markets and what was going on “at home”, building relationships between German-speaking Europe and the UK. Everybody in that team was from elsewhere—Swedish, Dutch, French, even our editor-in-chief was American.
And I loved it. I loved telling people, no I hadn’t studied journalism and economics (as would have been required if I’d wanted to get a similar kind of job in, say, Germany), I had my job because UK company took a chance on me—that I could learn the skills necessary.
I was a good journalist, though the financial crisis made it difficult at times. I was then hired as an editor for a small financial magazine based on that experience (27K) and eventually was head-hunted by an Italian/German bank to work as an editor (44K), which was also the time when I bought a little “two up, two down” Victorian house with garden in [road].
After escaping a difficult situation in Germany, my “gamble” had paid off. We’re now a happy couple of 15 years or so, living in our little house, paying our mortgage, pursuing our careers. I’ve started a small side business in publishing and contribute to UK culture by writing novels in English.
When I attend author conferences in the States, people seem to often mistake me for British due to my accent. It’s a little strange to be mistaken for British, and while I correct them, I also make sure that I bring honour to the UK. My own identity as “German” has softened sufficiently that I considered becoming fully British. After all, my partner is English, I bought a house here, I owe any career progress I’ve made, any professional success to the openness of the UK and the flexibility of its job market, I pay my taxes here, and I wholeheartedly embrace all the values of the British. I was proud when my gay friends were finally allowed to marry—while Germany has a civil partnership, but not full marriage.
I’ve never applied for or taken any benefits, even while I was entitled to them when I was briefly unemployed. I had savings and duly lived off those, doing anything else would have felt dishonourable as there were others much more in need than I.
Last year, I was hired by a German-owned, private investment bank in the City—it’s a job I love, with a team I love possibly even more (all English, with one a second-generation Serbian immigrant). My bank employs 40+ nationalities. We all pay our taxes, contribute to our communities.
I’m paying a number of English people to help me with the garden, with the household, to edit and design the books I’m writing and self-publishing. As I’m fortunate and on a generous salary, I pay them what they’re worth, not what I could get away with. It’s my way of paying back for my good fortunes.
I never wanted to leave. I wanted to work in London until my professional life is over, then maybe retire somewhere in the beautiful English countryside (I love both Kent and Yorkshire, different as they are) with my English partner, get a couple of cats and write more books.
All of this has now been drawn into question. The disastrous EU referendum outcome, based on lies, misinformation, fear and xenophobia, is already having a negative effect on my life. Over the past few weeks, I responded to every negative comment against immigrants with, “But I’m an immigrant.”
The response came in one of three shapes: a sheepish lowering of the gaze and a quick change of topic, or a quick assurance that, “Oh, no, I don’t mean you”, or “Oh no, you are the right kind of immigrant”, or even, and I can barely get myself to type this, “Oh no, not you, you’re white” – as if it makes me feel better that xenophobia is actually naked racism with a coat on.
The third type of response is just a bit more troubling: hatred and ignorance spewed forth – such as the UKIP canvasser who tried to explain all the evils of Europe to me, a German who’s grown up in a country that only survived its own love affair with right-wing extremism because the Allied forces bombed our cities and infrastructure until we couldn’t go on fighting – and then helped us rebuild it all.
My family on my father’s side is from the area around Dresden, its world-famous church only recently rebuilt with the help of donations from former “Allied” nations. My mother’s side hails from the Ruhrgebiet—the area subject to the Dambuster episode that killed French forced labourers and lots of women and children. Essen, the city I was born in, was called “Fortress Essen”, because 1 in 4 planes attacking it was destroyed. If you look at photos of Essen after the war, 90% of its centre was destroyed (60% of its suburbs).
Our church, built in 800-1,100 AD was badly damaged, but eventually rebuilt. When in crisis or before major life decisions, I used to go there and pray (even though strictly I’m an atheist), aware of the history, the destruction, and then the mercy and goodwill shown my city and my nation.
Every time I visit the Imperial War Museum (which I support as a “member” as I believe it’s an amazing institution that educates on the terrible price of war by presenting a balanced account of all sides without hatred or rancour), I spend a few minutes in contemplation in front of the display that shows a bomber’s tailfin and other artifacts from the period. The tailfin has dates and places painted onto it—the city where I was born, the city where I lived, the city where I went to university, the city where I used to study for my exams in the library. It’s a sobering thought, and a deeply contemplative one.
Being aware of all that history, I want to tell you there’s not one decent German alive who doesn’t remember and who isn’t grateful for having been liberated from the Nazis by the Allies. My area was liberated by the US Army, but then ended up in the British Zone of Occupation, and successfully rebuild, no doubt with hard, collaborative work from all sides. Essen, with its coal and steel works became one of the main “industrial hearts” of the newly democratic Germany and in part powered what we Germans call the “economic miracle”—enabled because the victor nations allowed us to scramble back to our feet and re-take our place in Europe after we had proven we could be trusted again.
Based on our shameful history of extremism and right-wing nonsense, Germans have fully supported the European Union as a project that ensured peace and prosperity across a continent scarred by nationalism and boundless destruction. When you speak to Germans, many will tell you they feel European first and German second. “Proud to be German” is a slogan that is basically unacceptable outside the football stadium. In part because our modern democratic state was built in the image of the “victor powers” and to avoid a nationalist takeover of power ever again, Germany is the economic and political success story at the heart of Europe it currently is. Even my grandfather, who fought the Allies, never said a bad word about the English, and was perfectly happy to communicate, with hands and feet, with my English partner when they met. You created our modern, democratic state and enabled our powerful economy, and we’re grateful.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for Britain as I know it. Business-minded, fair, tolerant, open to different ideas, without religious extremism of any colour, and a job market that, I think, rewards hard work, skills, self-application, initiative, and “getting on with it”. I would be a very different person had I not come here. Every immigrant I know – Americans, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Polish, Germans, French, Costa Ricans – loves this country and works hard to contribute to it in return for the generosity and openness shown us.
So it is with unspeakable horror and heartbreak that I’m seeing this terrible EU Referendum shaking the UK. I have Polish friends who are in tears over it. They fear being deported to a Poland that has become nationalist and racist and is curtailing women’s rights right now. Personally, I have put all plans to take UK citizenship on hold – I might need to marry my boyfriend so he can live with me in Germany if I’m forced to leave.
The City of London, where I work, is already in turmoil – the Financial Times is reporting that the asset managers are making plans to move staff and offices to Luxembourg and Dublin, and the big American investment banks are set to move staff to Dublin, Frankfurt, and Madrid, so they retain “passporting” rights. Our head of research on Friday said she expects a large round of layoffs (there are rumours regarding a large Swiss bank), and she’s very plugged into the rumour mill and very well connected. Efinancialcareers, a website that is dedicated to financial careers, is citing consultants who are right now helping banks and other financial institutions to move staff out of London, and they expect losses of 50,000-70,000 jobs.
The longer the uncertainty goes on, the worse the blood-letting in terms of jobs – 1 in 8 workers in London is an immigrant. Many of us are highly qualified, optimistic, hard-working, dedicated. None of us wants to leave.
Personally, I will need to follow my job in case my bank decides to move offices, sell my house in [borough] and face possibly years of uncertainly or all the effort of having to establish myself again somewhere. I’m financially strong, I have a passport that allows me to return to Germany if I absolutely must, and I believe my job experience in the UK will place me in good stead with other German banks, but that also means ripping my partner out of his life here, his friendships and forcing him away from his two very young god-children who live in [borough].
And all of this pain and insecurity is so unnecessary.
I know I don’t count for much as a voter – all we immigrants had to watch helplessly as the UK made a decision that has a massive, negative impact on our lives and futures and that of our friends and families. So I ask you as the MP for [borough], please do what you can to stop “Brexit” and put the UK back on an even path. I pray to every divinity out there that the British values of openness, fairness and pragmatism will prevail.
Thank you for reading and kindest regards,
[name, postcode, address]

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