I filed my application for an Irish passport today. It was not entirely unconnected with the fact that my Malaysian girlfriend, who holds a French carte de séjour, was refused entry to the UK a month ago, when she wanted to visit for four days.
She had visited me without incident three weeks previously; but on this latter occasion, she was stopped, told to remove her things from the cross-channel train, was detained for four hours, locked up for two, body-searched and fingerprinted, and then cross-examined – after her mobile phone had been taken away – in what she described as a most insulting fashion.
I can corroborate the latter, since as her “sponsor” I was telephoned and questioned in a similar fashion. I bridled at such invasive personal questions, and told the officer so. Yet despite my assurances, which backed up all the information (length of stay, return ticket, and so on) given to him by my girlfriend, it was abundantly clear that the immigration officer in question was seeking any pretext to refuse her entry. Which he eventually did.
Despite her having only a weekend bag, a return ticket for four days later, and hundreds of euros in her purse, the jobsworth in Calais, presumably prefiguring Theresa May’s latest advert for the undesirability of anyone let alone spending tourists coming in, decided she was “not a credible visitor”.
After this tawdry exhibition of petty power, she was handed over to the local police, who deposited her on a deserted street in Calais – hardly the safest place in the world – at 11.45pm on a Saturday evening. Even worse, the jobsworth, perhaps auditioning for a role in a follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, had asked her why she hadn’t told her husband she was visiting me.
In fact she has been estranged from her French husband for three years, although they remain friends and share the same property while waiting for a divorce. But she had admitted she was still officially married. Even so, are these people immigration officers or morality police?
Refusing to be thwarted from meeting up, I booked my girlfriend into a hotel and myself onto a Calais shuttle the following morning. After a sleepless night, seething over a display of such petty-mindedness, I drove to Folkestone at 7am, joining my girlfriend by lunchtime, and we ended up spending two days together. But the theatre and cinema tickets in London had been wasted, and an arbitrary decision by a mean-minded individual cost me close to £1,000. Even worse, my girlfriend’s passport has a huge cross in it, demonstrating that she has been refused entry to the UK.
After I returned to London, she sent me a comprehensive account of her treatment, which consisted mostly of repeated and invasive personal questions: about herself, about her estranged husband and about me.
“I kept on asking him many times why he asked these kind of personal questions which were not related to my UK trip,” she wrote. “I asked him also if it is illegal or not to visit a friend in London even if I am married in France. Then he said that I do not have good relationship with my husband. ‘If you have a good relationship with your husband, you should tell him everything.’ I was angry and I said to him: ‘You are not here to teach me what to do with my husband. You just need to check if I’m really visiting a friend in London and whether I can spend money in London.’”
Despite an intervention from my MP, I received a reply two days ago to my complaint to the Home Office, backing up the exclusion decision, and describing my girlfriend as a “housewife”. As it happens, she teaches privately and speaks four languages with two additional dialects (of Chinese). Obviously an undesirable person to enter the UK!
As for the Irish passport, though mostly retired from a job in journalism that required me to travel extensively, I still find myself in airports far too often. Being shunted into a lengthy “aliens” passport queue, as a result of the moronic Brexit decision, is not to my taste.
Since my mother was born “on the island of Ireland”, as the Republic documentation requires, I am automatically an Irish citizen. As such, I qualify for an Irish passport.
The Irish have been called many things over the years of their struggle firstly for independence, and then economic viability and freedom from being what was once memorably called a “priest-ridden country”. I never recall “petty and mean-spirited” being prominent among the accusations – as they so clearly are about much in British public life nowadays.
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