Wandsworth’s Brexit stories: Listening to the voices of local EU citizens

In the week that the Government triggered Article 50, Wandsworth Labour listens to some of the 25,000 EU citizens who live in our borough.

Giovanni MontillaroGiovanni Mortillaro is one of the 4,500 Italian citizens living in Wandsworth and has been here for 33 years. He has a son and runs a small business importing Italian food which he sells at his delicatessen in Tooting.

“I don’t feel welcome anymore. I’ve built my life here, my business, my family, my home. I’ve paid taxes here all my life and I run a small business which employs staff. I came here believing it was a free country which offered opportunities to those willing to work hard, but that’s not turned out to be the case”.

“We’ve contributed to the health and wealth of this country and now Teresa May is treating us like pieces of meat to be exchanged”.

“I have built a community here in Tooting but now I don’t know where I stand. For me, Brexit is like the end of an era. I am now seriously considering going back to Sicily, which is so sad for me as I have made so many friends here over the years”.


Marzena ForrestalMarzena Forrestal, has lived here for 24 years. She is one of the 3,900 people of Polish origin who live in Wandsworth. She is a Mum to 3, step Mum to 2, a hairdresser and pilates teacher.

“My main worry is about people who came here to escape poverty or because they were ambitious – people who came here because they wanted to work, run businesses, employ people and establish their lives here. They deserve to be able to stay here. For them to have to worry about their future is shameful.

“I worry what will happen to the people I employ, most of whom are of Eastern European origin. They work extremely hard. Some have families with young children. Some don’t have somewhere to go back to. I have Polish friends whose children were born here who are scared to death.

“I also worry that I may now need to go through a formal and expensive process for my Mum to be able to visit from Poland.

“I worry my children won’t be able to travel so easily to Europe, settle there, live and work there, with the ease that previous generations have. My daughter wants to move to Poland to do an MA in Polish history. I don’t know how easy that will be from outside the EU.

“I have achieved something here. I’ve employed people, I’ve created something, I volunteer – I help out in a local care home. Brexit makes me cry. This affects our children and their futures”.


Leone family, Noah, Frederika and Mila and MayaFrederika Leone has lived here for 20 years. She is one of the 2,200 German citizens in Wandsworth. Frederika met her husband, Christian, who is Italian and manages a restaurant, in London. They married at the Town Hall in Wandsworth and have 3 children, who were all born here. The children have dual Italian/German nationality.

“I feel betrayed because we didn’t sneak in through the back door – it was open to us just as the doors were open for UK citizens wanting to settle in other EU countries. We were all equal. Now, after Brexit, I don’t know what my status is anymore. Will I still be equal if I stay here?

“Our children don’t have UK citizenship – they were born here and raised here but only 1 of them is old enough to qualify for UK citizenship.

“We are left in a position where we will probably have to apply for a resident’s permit, which costs around £65 each, then for UK citizenship, which costs about £1,500 each and then we should be able to apply for the children.  Then there’s the cost of getting UK passports. In the end, Brexit will cost our family many thousands of pounds.

“I am worried about my right to remain, my status, and the rights of my children. Before, I felt like a European living in a European country, now I feel like a German living in England.

“In London I always felt like I could be who I wanted to be but now I feel wary of speaking my own language to the kids. I don’t want people to turn round and tell me to go home. That’s not the London I used to know”.


Eamonn Richardson

Eamonn Richardson, is one of the 6,000 Irish people living in Wandsworth. He has been in the UK for 31 years and is retired

“The peace in Ireland isn’t perfect but it’s an awful lot better that what we had in the past. We don’t want to go back 30 years.

“I worry about what it will mean for the Irish border. I crossed that border just last year and you can see no difference between the two countries except that miles become kilometres and the letterboxes go from red to green. The peace isn’t perfect but it’s an awful lot better that what we had in the past. We don’t want to go back 30 years. By restoring a border, any border, you’re risking this.

“The people in favour of a united Ireland will be watching what happens in Scotland very closely.

“Bits of London’s financial importance will inevitably be nibbled off and relocated to Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris, Luxembourg. People will think twice about coming here if they think they will be more welcome elsewhere and jobs will definitely go in the city.

“I get cross when I see the hard work done by the people of the EU, in caring jobs, for instance. They gave up a lot to come here only to now be faced with uncertainty.”


Nathalie PouvreauNathalie Pouvreau is one of the 3,200 French citizens living in Wandsworth. She has lived in the UK  for 28 years, has a son and teaches French at a primary school.

“As a French citizen I could not vote in the EU referendum and now I am concerned about losing my right to vote in local elections.  I am also worried about what access I will have to medical care after Brexit.

“I have paid tax here and paid into my pension for 28 years and yet I don’t know what will happen to us; will my pension be OK, will I be allowed to remain permanently? ”


Permilla Willson-RosellPernilla Willson-Rosell is a Swedish self-employed project manager who works in the city. Her clients include investment banks and asset managers. She has lived in the UK for 28 years, has two sons and lives with her British husband.

“I have started applying for permanent residency but because I am self-employed, I have to provide reams and reams of paperwork – so much so that I have engaged a lawyer to handle the application at a cost of over £3.5k – the admin is a minefield.

“If everyone who’s lived here as long as I have ends up getting an automatic right to remain once we leave, or if no one does, I will have wasted my money, but we just don’t know. It’s the uncertainty that’s the worry”.

“It will be the poorer people who suffer more when goods get more expensive and inflation goes up, which it will as the pound falls. That tends to result in people spending less, business will suffer and tax revenues will fall as a result. If people think the cuts are bad now…wait until Brexit happens”.

“I am less worried about myself than I am for the British people. I have the option of going back to Sweden and my kids have dual nationality so they will carry on being able to access all the benefits the EU offers them. But for British people Brexit is a step backwards”

“All the little costs will add up for everyone – who will cover the cost of issuing new passports, new number plates, roaming charges?”

“I’ve always considered myself a Tory supporter. It is ironic that at the point of finally applying for British citizenship, the likelihood is very slim that I will be willing to vote for them”.


Hundreds of local families and businesses have told Wandsworth Labour volunteers that they are concerned about Brexit and what it will mean for them.

Wandsworth Labour will stand up for local people who feel the negative impact of Brexit. Some residents are worried that they will have to leave the area they call home.

It is unacceptable that people who have made their lives here in Wandsworth and contribute to our community now fear for their long-term future.

Simon Hogg, Wandsworth Labour leader, is writing to the Government to ask for a guarantee that EU citizens already settled in our borough are allowed to stay.

Wandsworth’s a great place to live thanks to its diversity and the contribution made by all our residents.

You can add your name to our campaign here: www.battersealabour.com/brexit

If you have a Brexit story to tell, please write it in the comments, or add it to our Facebook page.

Author: Wandsworth Labour

News and opinion from Wandworth Labour councillors

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