Sunil Varma is a climate scientist, he moved to France in August 2018 where he lives with his partner.
1) How did you feel on 24th June when you heard about the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
I had always feared that if the UK were given a choice to leave the EU, it would. Firstly, because people were not aware of what the EU actually was and our role in it and secondly all the lies spread by the media and many politicians about the EU. However, at the time of the referendum, I remembered a television programme that had conducted an experiment using an average street in England. They canvassed everyone in the street at the beginning of the programme about whether the UK should stay in the EU and the majority said no. However, after an education campaign where groups went into each household and explained what the EU was and answered any questions, the street changed its mind and voted to stay. I was therefore hopeful at the beginning of the campaign. However, I began to worry as I witnessed the referendum campaign. I knew that lies would be spread in campaign material but was horrified at the way journalists (both in print and television) did not fact check anything or correct a statement that was blatantly a lie. The anti-immigration stance presented by the Leave side became more and more disturbing. I felt that the furies had been released and suddenly having prejudicial attitudes was not only acceptable but a badge of being British.
On the morning of the result, I was devastated. I felt that I no longer recognised the country I loved. I knew that the result would release a lot of hate against our fellow EU citizens but also against people of colour. I feared for all the children going to school who would now face bullying. I feared for the existence of the UK itself when it became clear that Scotland and Northern Ireland had voted differently. I feared for all the young people whose futures had been jeopardised and opportunities limited.
2) What were the key driving factors that made you decide to leave the UK?
I felt that the UK was going in a direction that I did not want to be a part of. It was becoming more racist, more intolerant and more nationalistic. I tried up to January 31st, 2020 to turn the tide and influence the decisions being made by active participation in pro-EU groups such as the European Movement but all this eventually came to nothing.
As an academic, I knew that leaving the EU would have a very negative impact on research funding, a lot of which we receive from the EU. It would lead to a decrease in mainland European scientists wanting a career in the UK due to the decrease in funding and the increasingly hostile environment now in the UK to “foreigners”. It would also make collaboration with our partners across Europe very difficult. I felt that my own career options would be severely reduced if I stayed here.
3) How/why did you choose your current country of residence?
I fell in love with France in 2014. In Nice, the people are so friendly and welcoming especially if you make the effort to speak French. People chat to me in restaurants and cafes and are generally interested in why I have chosen to live in France. President Macron was also welcoming scientists from the UK and the USA to join French institutes.
4) Do you have citizenship for your current country? Do you still have EU citizenship? If no, are you hoping to obtain it?
I do not have French citizenship but in 2023 I will obtain permanent residency following which I will apply for citizenship. I feel that it is really important to become a citizen of the country where you wish to spend your life. For me it will be a happy day when I receive my French naturalisation certificate, both as I will be a French citizen but also an EU citizen again.
5) Do you plan to return to the UK or hope to move to another country in the future?
I will never break my link to the UK. I have close family and friends and despite everything I still love the country of my birth and am very grateful for all the opportunities I have received. I hope one day the UK will rejoin the EU and become a proud contributor rather than a reluctant participant.
6) What was the most difficult aspect/greatest you challenge you faced in moving?
I did not know anyone when I moved to Nice so making fiends has been challenging. I have not found any other aspect particularly challenging other than what you would expect moving anywhere. In France, the bureaucratic process is infamous but I have had help in applying for my initial residency permit.
7) What do you miss most about the UK?
Seeing my friends and living in London.
8) What do you love most about your current country of residence?
9) Do you consider yourself to have a “European identity” and what that does that mean to you?
Yes, I do. It means friendship, community, peace, diversity and common liberal values.
10) Do you still consider yourself to have a “British identity” and how do you feel about it?
Yes, I do. I was born and brought up in the UK. I was always proud of where I came from and hope one day the UK will return to being the country that I loved.
Additional Questions (relating to Corona Virus)
11) How has the Covid19 pandemic affected your life?
Not in any negative way.
12) How do you feel about your country’s response to the Covid19 pandemic compared to the UK government & media?
I think the UK response has been completely negligent. An indirect cause of Brexit is that it has led to a cabinet of limited ability (run by a clown) whose incompetence and callousness is unmatched by any previous government in recent British history.