Today is a quiet day at work, so I do something naughty because nobody else is in the office. I steam open Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk. Actually, that’s not quite true. Such romantic notions are long dead. I download the document as a PDF from the other BBC’s website.
As I read through, I think: “not a bad job”. It’s respectful, it’s objective, and at times it’s even self-critical. Hardly a declaration of war, but if you know where to look then battle lines have been drawn up.
Telling us where to look is the job of the other BBC’s political correspondents. To me, it’s a long document rolling up the screen in glorious monocolour. It’s like trying to read the credits at the cinema when you have to catch the last bus. So I pick out the bits that interest me. Self-interest plays a role in this whole debate; I suspect I’m not alone in saying that.
These are the bits that caught my eye:
We respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”.
I love the phrase “cherry-picking”. It’s been used so often in this context that it’s become a German word. Like das running gag and der last-minute Urlaub. Goethe would turn in his grave.
From the start and throughout the negotiations, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom.
No referendum for Scotland. Not yet. None of my business really, what happens in Scotland. But I always have to know.
Then comes the part I’m actually looking for:
We should always put our citizens first.
In bold type. The speed read has been worth it. Noises have been made on the EU side about securing the rights of those of us on the wrong side of the line, these noises have been reciprocated and put down in writing. Hurrah for the noisemakers! Maybe an early deal can be done.
It’s not that simple of course: access to health and pension services will have to be discussed -both sides have pointed that out. From a practical point of view, this shouldn’t affect me. I work here, pay my contributions and medical insurance here. But there’s a finer principle at stake. I may become an outsider, a second-class citizen.
In some ways I already am. This referendum highlights a curious anomaly. I cannot vote in Germany because I am not a German citizen. Actually, that’s not quite true. I can vote in the municipal and European elections but nobody cares about them. I can’t vote for Mrs. Merkel and I can’t vote in the state elections. And I can’t vote in the UK.
The rule is that if you’ve lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years you are no longer allowed to vote. Normally I would find that quite sensible because most of what happens in the UK doesn’t concern me. But this? Surely this is different.
So here I am, caught in a hole in the political space-time continuum. I am interested in politics but politics isn’t interested in me.
Do I blame Theresa for what she has done? No. She is only doing her job. I find it ironic that she campaigned against this and now she has to make it happen. She has nothing to lose. I have everything to lose and wasn’t even allowed to make a choice.
I read the letter again in more detail. It’s like a Brontë novel. Erudite, empathetic, stirring even. But ultimately very sad.
My colleague enters the room and I pretend I am busy.