Richard Fairhead moved to Cyprus in 1992 with his wife and two sons, since the Brexit vote, he has applied for Cypriot citizenship.
1) How did you feel on 24th June when you heard about the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
I felt totally sick. I didn’t get out of bed all day just lay there feeling ill. I couldn’t believe it. I listened to the radio and kept hoping it wasn’t true. But it was. I was frightened, what would happen… would I be forced to move to a country I didn’t want to ever live in?
Over the next week I found others who felt like me, some of whom have now become very close friends. It was a day of tribal division. One tribe against another and one tribe one. The losers now frightened. On the 24th itself I don’t think I recognised this tribal war, it just seemed that British people who were allowed a vote had gone stark raving mad.
1a) How did you feel on February 1st 2020?
Really saddened. The UK had withdrawn democratic representation from me some 8 years back, as nobody who has left the country more than 15 years has democratic representation. And now by leaving the EU the UK has stripped me of democratic representation in the EU. I thus now have no democratic representation anywhere in the world. I have become a sort of non-person.
1b) And what about January 1st 2021?
Well, looking forward to that creates a lot of mixed emotions. As a parent I was keen my children should learn the difference between punishment and natural consequences. We sometimes allowed them to do things we knew would have adverse natural consequences so that they learned. Like a time they wanted to buy cheap super soakers at the fair. We warned them they would break quickly because they were poor quality but allowed them to spend their own money on them and then they did break quickly. There is a pain to watching your kids make mistakes but you have to let them learn. It’s not punishment, it’s natural consequences.
So I don’t want the UK to be punished for it’s stupidity but I really do want them to suffer the natural consequences of making such a stupid decision so they learn. And there lies the problem for me… if it’s just a mild inconvenience I will feel annoyed because it was such a really big and stupid decision, but if there are food and medicine shortages, power cuts, lines and lines of lorries at the ports, part of me will feel pleased that they are beginning to realise the natural consequences of what they did but part of me will feel pain for my friends and family who still live there.
2) What were the key driving factors that made you decide to leave the UK?
Wow, that’s a mixed question and operates on multiple levels. We moved to the USA first for two years for work, then three years in the UK for work then moved to Cyprus for work. That was initially for two years, then longer as the work continued and then we sold up in the UK and bought a house here to be our home for the rest of our lives.
I’ve now worked in 35 countries and visited 47 so have had a chance to evaluate many. Last year I passed my 800th national border crossing! The EU member states bordering the Mediterranean are my choice for a place to live followed by Panama, Morocco and Tunisia.
3) How/why did you choose your current country of residence?
Initially work. I work in the Middle East & North Africa and Cyprus was a good location. I could be in most of those countries within an hour or two.
I say initially work, because also ever since I was a teenager I have hoped to retire to a country other than the UK and since I will be 63 in a month’s time I’m close to retirement.
The primary problem for me with the UK is it’s latitude. If it were 15 degrees further south I might cope with it better. But it isn’t and so even as a child I never wanted to live there… my grandmother used to say I came alive in the summer. It’s true. I need sunshine and Cyprus has about 270 days of sun a year which is what I need to stop descending into moroseness or depression! I’d planned to retire to the south of France, but moving to Cyprus for work I fell in love with the place. It’s not quite paradise on earth but pretty close.
4) Do you have citizenship for your current country? Do you still have EU citizenship? If no, are you hoping to obtain it?
Initially when we moved here we had to apply for ARC (Alien Registration Certificates) – we were aliens in this country. Then when Cyprus joined the EU we applied for first MEU(1) and then MEU(3) which are the registration documents for EU citizens resident in Cyprus, the first is temporary, the second permanent. Our government here have said that although we have lost EU citizenship the MEU(3) will still apply to us.
But I have also applied for citizenship of the Republic of Cyprus. I love this country. It’s a republic for one thing and I was pretty much a lifelong republican in the UK; I’d love to see the monarchy abolished. We have a great electoral system that is a lot fairer than the UK – every MP here is elected by more than 50% of those who vote. Our president is cogent and coherent on policy and comes across as a friendly family man. I remember at Easter this year he read a children’s story to the children of our country and then explained to them about COVID and how it was important to keep separation. He did it well.
I don’t know how long it will take and I really hope and pray that I will be granted citizenship. I’ve been waiting more than two years since I applied and I have been told it could take another 5-7 years for it to be processed. I have a latent fear that I hope is unfounded that I get rejected and get forced to move to the UK. I don’t think I would do so. I think I would buy a larger sailing boat than my current one and live on that. I hope to never have to live in the UK again.
5) Do you plan to return to the UK or hope to move to another country in the future?
I plan to never ever return to the UK. I don’t plan to move from Cyprus, the country I love.
6) What was the most difficult aspect/greatest you challenge you faced in moving?
Initially it was difficult to get residency here in Cyprus, we had to apply for a visa every year, proving our income things like that. As an NGO worker proving income was a bit stressful.
I remember well the 1st of May 2004. That was the day Cyprus joined the EU. We went down to Finikoudes (what we call the promenade here, it means a row of palm trees) as a family and there were fireworks and a big celebration. Since we were EU citizens we now had a right to live here, we no longer had to apply for visas or anything like that. It truly was home now. We were all so happy. It was after that we sold our house in the UK and bought one here. Now we could not just continue working from here but could comfortably live the rest of our lives here. Cyprus was now our permanent home.
7) What do you miss most about the UK?
I obviously miss friends and family, but have settled in well here so really don’t miss anything. If I could never visit the UK again in my life I would struggle not seeing friends and family but if they were to move here then I would happily never visit the UK again in my life.
8) What do you love most about your current country of residence?
Sunshine. Yes, sunshine!
But alongside that I love the culture, it’s a European Mediterranean culture which is much more relaxed and relational than the UK. The people here are warm and friendly like Middle Easterners but also with the plusses of being European as well.
I love the way I see the country improving year on year, it’s not perfect, but it’s heading in the right direction. As much as I can I want to be part of that process.
9) Do you consider yourself to have a “European identity” and what that does that mean to you?
Before we moved to the USA I had worked in a number of European countries and I had seen how different they were. I liked a lot of them but they felt very different. Then we moved to the USA. The USA wasn’t just different, it was DIFFERENT! They had an entirely different world view and I saw then how similar Europeans are to each other. There is a sense that I went to the USA thinking of myself as British and returned thinking of myself as European.
People tend to think language is what makes a culture, and there is some truth in that, but there is something about being European, or more particularly for me southern European, that is unifying. I can go from Cyprus to Greece to Italy to Spain and to Portugal… all different but also all very similar. Two years ago I met someone from Albania. I’ve never been to Albania but within a few minutes I realised we shared this common southern European culture.
10) Do you still consider yourself to have a “British identity” and how do you feel about it?
I was always ashamed of being British. The British have done such horrible things around the world. I remember at 18 doing my driving test and the examiner asked me ‘Do you have any disabilities?’ To which my instant response was ‘Only being British’. He was an older person and they tend to be more patriotic so as soon as I said that I thought it was probably not the right thing to say, but I passed the test so he cannot have held it against me.
The older I have grown as an adult the more I have come to have negative feelings about my country of birth. Yes, it cannot help it’s latitude so that rules it out as a place to live without any option, but the broken electoral system, the broken system of government, the rising xenophobia, the self-centredness, the money-centredness… the list goes on and there is very little to commend it to be honest.
If or when I am granted citizenship of the Republic of Cyprus I will almost always travel on my Cyprus Passport, one I would be proud of rather than the British one which only brings me shame.
Additional Questions (relating to Corona Virus)
11) How has the Covid19 pandemic affected your life?
Our country has done really well, it is one of the best in the world. Our government and our President explained things well. We have a really good Minister of Health. We had a very severe and early shutdown. And it was a true shutdown, to leave the house you had to send a coded SMS message and get a response giving you permission which you could show to the police. That permission was granted a maximum of one time per day and for some criteria you were not allowed to move more than 1km from your home (the post code was part of the coded SMS message).
However, it worked. We did well and the short sharp shock that was way more severe than some other countries meant that we then came out of lockdown and have had only 20 deaths in the whole country. We did everything according to the recommendations of the WHO, turning our national hospitals into a ‘hot’ hospitals with a single reference hospital and then temporarily nationalised all the private hospitals as ‘clean’ hospitals to cope with non-Covid medical issues. Initially we converted hotels into quarantine locations with armed police to make sure nobody broke quarantine. We did and continue to do a really efficient ‘trace and test’ regime with follow-up quarantine for those traced, but now in their homes.
A lot of my work is online, with a team in four countries, so Zoom meetings as normal for us before COVID-19 even started. Hence work continued pretty much as normal. But I then ended up helping make online services for our Anglican church and editing a drama shot in isolation and a choir item shot on mobile phones… in consequence I ended up working seven days a week many hours per day. It’s a pity I wasn’t being paid for it!
Because it was ‘no change’ I thought it wouldn’t be too bad. But I’m an extrovert and the weekends and evenings when I get out or have people round are therefore very important to me. Playing board games over Zoom (one camera on us and one on the board) works well but is not the same as doing it face to face! As the weeks wore on, I got more and more depressed. I missed my weekend sails with friends. I hadn’t realised just how important they were to me psychologically! Obviously, that also involves sunshine too, so although I was trying to get my vitamin D over breakfast on the balcony it wasn’t the same!
12) How do you feel about your country’s response to the Covid19 pandemic compared to the UK government & media?
I’ve got to the point of trying to avoid looking at the UK; it appears so totally incompetent! One of the things I really wish Facebook had was a word filter. I would set it to remove all posts about the UK and USA. I really don’t want to know. I have friends who are international consultants who help organisations like the World Bank or the European Commission and understand at a high level how policy coherence is important. Looking in from the outside it appears that neither the UK government nor their advisers even understand what the phrase means!