What does it mean to be illegal in Britain?

It means nothing.

There are no illegal humans, for starters. How can it be illegal to be a human being?

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The phrase “who don’t have the correct documents” is often used in all sort of documentation, such as this PDF by Global Justice Now, but there is no such thing as “having the correct documents” for foreigners and their descendants in Britain.

Also, in the past few years, the British government has changed the definition of “who are here legally” for EU citizens so many times, often retroactively, that I’ve lost count.

Most of the time in recent years, I didn’t know whether I was still here legally or had become an illegal. I have one letter that states that I am here legally but it contains various typos. Would that be accepted? The Home Office’s most recent announcements appear to indicate that I am currently seen again as being here legally and will also be allowed to stay after Brexit.

Thousands of people who had official “leave to remain” – that and the British nationality, I think, are the only “official documents” that in theory mean that you are not an illegal immigrant – have also been detained, deported, threatened with deportation or stopped from entering Britain, as have even a few people with British passports. Way too many EU citizens have too.

Every time I travel back to Britain, I don’t know whether I will be allowed into the country.

(Dutch people living in Holland who tell me that I will be allowed back into Britain – as after all, I am an EU citizen – in doing so only reveal their unfamiliarity with what is going on in Britain.)

The last time I travelled back, the French wanted me to open my suitcase because when they scanned it, they had seen that it contained a hard disk and they wanted to know what it was, make sure that all it was was a hard disk. Fine. No problem. They were, although in something of an urgent hurry, pleasant enough about it. Nothing wrong with it whatsoever.

The British customs officer, on the other hand, for a second pretended that he wanted to confiscate my passport. This would normally be simply a form of British humour, but he was not smiling and it came across as having been intended in a different way. But then again, British humour can be far from hilarious. So, what should I make of it, this odd gesture from this customs officer? I have no idea. “Nothing” is the most practical response.

Once Brexit has been in existence for three years or so, we may finally be able to prove that we really are here legally. Until then, it is going to remain a hit or miss thing. Whether you are here legally or illegally seems to depend on which person in power you run into, on whether that person hates you or likes you, or likes the current government or not.

But that is immaterial.

There are no legal or illegal humans. Period.

Other than that, I have no solutions.

But here is someone who does: Cleo Wade

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