Deanna moved to Austria in April 2018 to live with her civil partner
1) How did you feel on 24th June when you heard about the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
I was devastated. Despite the lies told during the EU referendum campaign, and the extreme polarisation of opinions, I had hoped for a different outcome. I had expected the UK to vote by a narrow margin to remain in the EU and the result was the opposite of that. On from the 24th of June, and for some a long time afterwards, I was bewildered at the direction taken by the country of my birth.
2) What were the key driving factors that made you decide to leave the UK?
I have always treasured the EU’s Freedom of Movement. When the referendum was held in 2016, I had never lived outside of the UK but I had met so many others who had benefitted from it, including my EU partner. I would never have met her if not for the fact that she had exercised her right to live and work in the UK. And I had always had the idea that I, too, might have the chance to exercise my right to live in another EU country one day. On the morning after the referendum, I was suddenly faced with losing that right.
And then in the weeks following the referendum there was a steep increase in hate crime. It felt like the referendum result had given some people permission to hate others just because they were different. I lived in Norfolk, and in early July 2016 there was an arson attack on an eastern European food shop in Norwich. I couldn’t remember anything like that happening in the city before. It broke my heart. To me, the UK suddenly felt like a different, darker place.
Taken together, the “pull” of the opportunity to live elsewhere in the EU before it was too late, combined with the “push” of a detrimentally changed UK, were key driving factors that made me want to leave the country.
3) How/why did you choose your current country of residence?
My partner is Austrian. Most of her family and many of her friends from her school days live in our current neighbourhood in Austria. So, Austria was the natural place for us to live when we left England. By the time we moved away from the UK, I had visited Austria on several occasions with her and I already knew that I loved what would become my new home. In 2017, we travelled from the UK to Austria where we formed our Civil Partnership. We had already decided that we would move permanently to Austria in 2018, and our Civil Partnership ceremony was, for me, a wonderful way of affirming my commitment to our relationship and future home.
4) Do you have citizenship for your current country? Do you still have EU citizenship? If no, are you hoping to obtain it?
I don’t have Austrian citizenship and I haven’t lived long enough in Austria to apply for it. I only have British nationality, which unfortunately means that I am no longer an EU citizen.
In most cases, Austria does not allow dual citizenship which means that I would have to renounce my British citizenship to become Austrian. And then I would lose my right to live and work in the UK. I don’t want to lose those rights, even if I never end up using them again
It seems that the best course for me is to remain in Austria under the rules agreed in the EU Withdrawal Agreement. I could then apply for Permanent Residence once I have been legally resident in Austria for five years.
Permanent Residency is probably the best long-term compromise for me, since it would give some of the rights of Austrian citizenship, and I would also have rights in EU law which are derived from having an EU spouse who has lived and worked in another EU country. And, of course, I can still re-enter the UK as a British citizen.
5) Do you plan to return to the UK or hope to move to another country in the future?
I have no plans to return to the UK in the future. My own parents moved away from the UK many years ago and I have made a new life with my partner here in Austria. My partner is Austrian and we now live close to her family. My partner’s mum is lovely, as is her husband, and that makes me feel happy and settled here. So, it’s unlikely we would move to another country. However, with the EU’s Freedom of Movement of Workers, I could move to another EU country with her even as a non-EU citizen. In other words, my rights derive from her rights, and the fact that she is my EU spouse. We may not move again, but it is nice to have the option.
6) What was the most difficult aspect/greatest you challenge you faced in moving?
Organising the move was difficult. My partner moved to the UK with little more than a suitcase over 20 years earlier, but now we had a house together, full of stuff to move. In the end, we sent boxes by courier, gave other stuff to charity and friends, sold some stuff and took the rest in a hired van, driving through several countries. Deciding what to take and leave was difficult, but once we were on the road it was an adventure. Then we drove the empty rental van back to England, dropped it off and flew back to Austria. That bit should have been easy. But it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to friends.
We had a leaving party in a favourite pub in Norwich, which was bittersweet. It was lovely to see so many people we were close to, but difficult not knowing when we might see them again. We also spent time going to see friends who couldn’t make it to our party, and each time was bittersweet in the same way.
And this section would not be complete without a mention of bureaucracy. It’s relatively easy to move within the EU, but it’s still not without pitfalls. Many things work differently. Being in the early stages of learn German, I was dependant on my partner to translate and to explain how things work.
7) What do you miss most about the UK?
Friends. Fish and chips. Pubs. Medieval Norwich and the gorgeous Broads waterways. Walking in the Norfolk countryside. The Norfolk coast, especially around Cromer. Working with fellow volunteers to make Norwich Pride happen each year.
8) What do you love most about your current country of residence?
Getting to know my partner’s friends. Summer evenings sitting outside at a Gasthaus (pub) or a cheerful Austrian Heuriger (a tavern where young locally-produced wine or still cider is served). Exploring the cities of Vienna, Salzburg and Linz. Hiking in forests. Wonderful mountains. Gorgeous lakes. Schnitzel. Austrian apricot jam. My Austrian in-laws.
9) Do you consider yourself to have a “European identity” and what that does that mean to you?
I have always felt European. What we Europeans have in common – our shared history, shared environment and so on – is just as important to me as those cultural differences that I find so interesting when I meet people from other corners of our continent.
I am suspicious of populist nationalism because I believe that leads to wars, and I think a sense of Europeans identity renders that populist nationalism redundant. So when I meet someone from Germany or Spain, for example, I think of them as fellow Europeans alongside their national identity. Those identities are, for me at least, not mutually exclusive.
10) Do you still consider yourself to have a “British identity” and how do you feel about it?
Culturally, I consider myself to be of Yorkshire, and also English and European. I don’t think any of those are mutually exclusive.
Once I would also have described myself as British and my passport says that I’m a British citizen. But I am feeling less and less British identity within me as time goes by. Today, for me to be described as British is to be labelled as the subject of a nationalist government in Westminster which is working only for England rather than for all of the people within its four constituent nations. It seems to me that the British government takes little notice of the 3 non-English nationalities within the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and is therefore acting as a “British” government in name only. And that’s not something that I can feel any affinity with.
I’m an English European from Yorkshire and I’m ashamed that the British government, physically located in the English capital, is acting like an imperialist overlord of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I might feel differently if the United Kingdom’s four nations became federally organised, with more equal rights for each of the four nationalities, but I can’t see that happening any time soon.
Additional Questions (relating to Corona Virus)
11) How has the Covid19 pandemic affected your life?
I was lucky to be living with my partner, and we supported each other during the lockdown. And we had a garden and could also go out for exercise, so I think we were relatively lucky. And I already worked mainly from home. But then my job disappeared because the supply chain of the company I worked for seized up. That was difficult for me because I want to feel that I’m making a contribution to the economy of my adopted country. I also found it very stressful applying for unemployment benefit. But then things began to pick up as the pandemic lockdown eased, and I got a new job but with reduced hours. Now I am hoping to get some more hours within the next two or three months, but nothing is certain yet.
It has been a strange few months, maybe the strangest I have experienced in my life. And there have been times when I wondered where it would lead. But society has not fallen apart. Today I am both anxious about how long the coronavirus crisis will continue but I also have hope for the future as I see things improve.
12) How do you feel about your country’s response to the Covid19 pandemic compared to the UK government & media?
Austria had some early problems with large numbers of coronavirus infections in the western state of Tirol. But after a shaky start, I think the Austrian government performed very well. I witnessed a competent and well-organised response from a government that knew what it was doing. The Austrian coalition government explained clearly to the people what it was doing, why it was doing it and what it hoped to achieve. The result has been that, by and large, people complied with the lockdown rules and the infection rate improved rapidly. At no point was the Austrian health service overwhelmed.
In contrast, it seems to me that the UK government has been making things up as it goes along, with more attention being paid to slogans than to making preparations (such as sourcing adequate personal protective equipment) or taking effective measures and providing clear information to the public. No politician could “send this virus packing” with a slogan. Because it’s a virus. And it doesn’t care about words. Even if they are from a prime minister.
I hold the UK government’s ministers responsible for thousands of deaths which could have been avoided had they been responsible and competent.
Some of the media coverage I saw from the UK was similarly irresponsible. Early in the crisis, there was panic-buying and there were pictures of empty shelves in UK supermarkets. And those pictures promoted even more panic buying. Here in Austria, there were reports on the media showing warehouses packed with food waiting for distribution, with an explanation of how the supplies were being sent to where they were needed. As a result, in Austria there was only mild overbuying for a day or two and shortages were brief.
Faced with the same problems, the approaches of the two countries were very different
I believe Austria has managed the coronavirus crisis far better than the UK.