It is April 2018, and Britain feels much as it did in 1993: divided, embittered, shrinking and increasingly irrelevant.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle after the result of the 2016 EU referendum came out: Leave.
Sterling and shares fell sharply for a few days. There were lots of images on the television of red-braces types yelling into phones. A chastened David Cameron did the decent thing and resigned, humiliated by his own party. After that, things were, if anything, more turbulent in the EU, which managed to have a third mighty row about tiny Greece later the same year. Over here in the UK, a slow but remorseless decline set in.
The business of leaving was settled fairly quickly. But two years on, the business of life outside is another matter. Prime minister Boris Johnson is finding it hard to reconcile his need for a free trade deal with Europe with the promises he made on immigration, and cannot understand why European leaders are unmoved by his command of Latin. Concluding trade deals with other countries seems to be taking forever.
President Clinton’s honeymoon period is over, China is in turmoil after the 19th Communist Party Congress, while in India, Narendra Modi is more interested in securing re-election in 2019.
Michael Gove’s second Budget — delivered on the day that BMW announced that the new Mini will be built in Slovakia — was the final straw. He made the usual promises about maintaining the triple lock on pensions, despite the persistent threat of deflation. And for the second year, he raised the cap on university tuition fees to £18,000. For those like me, with children nearing university age, this is going to be crippling. There is much water-cooler talk about leaving the country.
The obvious thing to do is to try and find a job overseas. But in the meantime the Financial Times offers me voluntary redundancy. I’ve been there a while, so the lump sum was tempting.
The initial period of delight in receiving a chunky pay-off soon gives way, however, to the realisation that my job opportunities in this non-EU country are not what they once were.
I realise I could use the money, plus the dwindling value of my home, to buy residency under a “golden visa” scheme. Several countries still offer it. Places like Antigua and St Kitts, which offer residency if you buy a $400,000 property, are out — too far away. Ideally, I need somewhere in Europe so my kids can go to a continental university at relatively low cost and I can remain close to the UK. That effectively narrows it down to Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Malta.
Spain and Portugal look the most viable. We have friends in Spain, where the economy is recovering nicely. You spend €500,000 on a villa — there’s no shortage, thanks to ageing British retirees returning home for their free healthcare — and you are in. But a quick internet search quickly establishes that we are talking about residency, not citizenship. You can live there and swan around the Schengen area, but you have to wait 10 years before becoming a Spanish (and therefore EU) citizen. It is the same in Portugal, although the wait is shorter there at six years.
Malta looks more promising, given that you only have to wait a year to become a citizen. It is temperate and English is widely spoken. By happy coincidence, an old school friend is editor of the Times of Malta. But the express service comes at a cost: you have to pay €650,000 into a social fund and buy or rent a property. The all-in cost would be more than €1m. It is a similar story in Cyprus, the only other EU country to offer direct “economic citizenship”.
I wonder about Jersey. It is part of the Common Travel Area, but also has a “special relationship” with the EU, despite not being a member of it. Nice low taxes, too. Alas, the relationship with Europe covers only the trade in goods. But thinking about the Common Travel Area puts me in mind of Ireland.
That’s it! My wife’s parents are Irish. She qualifies for Irish citizenship, as do the children. One grandparent born in Ireland is all you need; just pay a modest fee to register a “foreign birth”, then you are clear to apply for a passport bearing a harp and the hallowed words “European Union”.
How farsighted of me to fall in love with this woman in all those years ago. We book our Ryanair flights (easyJet having long since moved its headquarters from Luton to Berlin’s flash new airport) and head to Dublin for a fact-finding trip.
Ireland has much to commend it: English is the main language and the financial sector is booming, swaths of the fund management industry having moved there from the City of London after the Brexit vote. My elder daughter loves Trinity College, whose majestic library rivals anything in Oxford or Cambridge. Dublin is in Celtic Tiger mode again; the city is in permanent gridlock, Latvians and Poles are pulling the pints, and everyone is talking about house prices. It rains the entire week we are there. In other words, just like the UK in the old days.