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ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

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Warm changes and cold showers

Open letter to the UK Parliament about the unintended consequences of Brexit for the EU nationals living in the UK

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2019). Warm changes and cold showers Open letter to the UK Parliament about the unintended consequences of Brexit for the EU nationals living in the UK. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 8.5 (May).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2019).Warm changes and cold showers Open letter to the UK Parliament about the unintended consequences of Brexit for the EU nationals living in the UK. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 8.5 (May).

London, 18 June 2019 - In the opinion of many Members of Parliament, the 2019 European Elections should have not happened in the United Kingdom and that's enough to explain why thousands of EU nationals have not been able to vote: it was just a "bureaucratic impasse".

We are living very extraordinary times in terms of changes to public life, politics and policy making.

What I foresaw in 2016, soon after the Brexit Referendum, as the reasons for such an impasse in the implementation of the "will of the people" to leave the EU, has been sadly unfolding within the arenas of parliamentary, experts' and media debates: I refer to my article Three good reasons for the UK to stay in Europe in which I predicted the bizarre situation we are in now.

When I wrote that article I was pretty much traumatised by repeated victimisation in property cases that had caused me a prolonged period of homelessness - and the prose perhaps still carries the burden of that awful experience: I cannot read it without feeling my heartbeat quickening again.

The 2016 EU referendum results had shocked me. I would have just liked to run away but ...where could I go, having lost all my money and my homes, my flat in Milan, my holiday flat in the South of Italy, my promised flat in North London, my rented little flat in South London, my stakeholder pension, all my belongings as well? I had just found a roof (from where, by the way, I was then evicted again in April 2018, the third "Section 21 no fault eviction" in ten years, apparently due to my attitude to "do the right thing" cooperating with authorities seeking evidence of wrongdoing in planning permissions and other regulations, see my articles reflecting about the policies for change in the local authority of Mr Garrick and Mr Omar). I felt the urgency to look at the big picture of the UK - EU relationships from the corner of my wounded, but somehow quite sounded, way of thinking about the referendum instrument and writing about it - and I addressed H.M. the Queen as "Dear Madam" as a sign of these huge feelings of estrangement and sadness.

I have now "settled status" and I am being told I am therefore "equal" to a British Citizen. I cannot see too much evidence about this, but for my entitlement to claim and receive welfare benefits exactly as any other habitual resident (and this is another slice of the mortification and victimisation cake as I should not be put in the position of claiming benefits. By the way, contrary to what some vexatious lobbyists say on social media, welfare benefits are absolutely open to and fairly accessible, with all the inefficiencies of huge Government transformation programmes like Universal Credit, by anybody who is legally entitled to permanently live in the UK, no matter if they are EU nationals, British or holding other nationalities).

I have thought I should write something about legitimisation - the act of making something legitimate, in particular a change in the law or in our public, institutional life - as an indispensable stage to transform policy ambitions in reality. At least in the civilised world of our western democracies, legitimisation is the process by which an alleged "will of the people", that keep on chatting about "leaving the EU" as it was a quarrel with the neighbour over the edge of the garden, is translated in new rules and procedures.

But I am not prepared to argue about legitimisation of changes called by referenda from a legal point of view - in the meantime a very popular radio broadcast, the Reith Lecture of 28 May given by Jonathan Sumption, In praise of politics, has dealt exactly with the notion of legitimacy, and the process of seeking, testing, probing legitimisation as an instrument to create social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in times of polarised, divided communities. I would surely recommend this podcast to all UK Members of Parliament.

So here I am again looking into UK policies on social and institutional change.

I feel again the urgency of writing about the way in which EU nationals have been treated during the 2019 European Elections in the UK. What can be done to fix the situation and to prevent further errors of judgement about rights and wrongs of the EU nationals?

I am afraid I do not have many answers but I am trying to promote awareness of the rights and uncover the wrongs with an opently partisan and yet non necessarily judgemental approach.

Bringing warm changes in cold organisations

One of the key questions encountered by any consultant working on innovation and change management is when time has come to advise the client's organisation to discontinue or decisively modify a certain line of action. No matter the substance, from submarine programmes to marketing campaigns for consumer products, there is always a moment in which it appears it is convenient to make a change in directions, strategies, priorities.

But it is a very tricky issue. In a project management scenario there are always of course indicators, performance measurements, economic data and other "hard" evidence that suggest unanimously what to do and when to do it to prevent risks of be locked in, on what is called a path dependence trajectory.

Sometimes the ideal timing to make that type of embarrassing, unpopular change comes from a counterintuitive look at the situation. In fact, adopting a completely different perspective makes the whole picture different: for instance, successful footballers and other performers and public figures choose to leave the scene at the highest peak of their career because that is the best way to optimise it and have the resources and total freedom to start a new one.

In politics and in policy making nobody really knows when it is the right time to give up - but for the temptation, if not the pure illusion, to turn towards stakeholders and electors and ask for renewed, "special" support.

As a result, the possibility of very cold showers must be taken into account: these are often seen or presented to the public opinion as unintended consequences and unpredictable matters but for the fact that, in reality, they were predicted by some and went totally ignored by the majority of people. The - relatively short so far - Brexit story offers already an entire repertoire of these cold showers, from the same first reaction of David Cameron on the door of Number 10, bitterly surprised by the results of the EU referendum, to the memorable and quite heroic PM Theresa May call for a quick general Election to get support for a "strong and stable" pathway to Brexit that did not come.

The rest is in the daily soap opera of the "possible yet impossible" deal (the Withdrawal agreement between Theresa May and the EU leaders rejected three times by the UK Parliament that forced her in the end to leave the job for which there are no other magician-candidates but two histrionic characters, both former Foreign Secretaries).

Among the Brexit cold showers, I am sad to say that something absolutely disgraceful happened in the May 2019 EU elections held in the UK, with so many EU nationals permanent resident (and mostly with already a formal or a de facto indefinite leave to remain card in their pockets), been denied the right to vote. How did it happen? I think it is a shame in the great British tradition of respect for predictable rights and regulations (what is normally called the rule of law).

I am not surprised - and I find it very sensible - that somebody from the Conservative benches has suddenly offered to transform our indefinite leave to remain in the UK after Brexit (what is now called "settled status") in automatic naturalisation because citizenship would be non only a sort of compensatory and consolatory measure but also a way to prevent any further (unacceptable for many, both leavers and remainers, both left and right) incidents of such moral magnitude to happen again.

I turned to social media and scrolled dozens of stories of EU nationals confirming a general feeling of apprehension about the most diverse life and families circumstances for which the old framework is fading away while a new one with new equivalent rules and regulations seems still long way off.

Politicians or officials seem unable or unwilling to hold to the old rules even when these should still apply while they take their time to make up the new one.

I received my poll card just a couple of days before the Elections day and I could vote without any problem as I did in any other EU or local elections for the past ten years. However I was so sorry to hear all the stories of other EU nationals who have not been able to vote just because, in spite of being registered as permanent resident in the UK and known to the Electoral Registers for having opted to vote in the UK and in the local elections since long, the local authorities in this occasion did not send them on time a form normally used to confirm they would not go to vote in their "home Countries" - for the obvious avoidance of risks of electoral frauds.

Truth is that I had raised a concern a couple of months before the EU elections, because I had a hunch that officials had embraced a superficial interpretation of our rights to vote in the EU elections post Brexit date (date that has not even actually happened yet at the time I am writing this article, since the "leaving" deadline has now been put off to the Autumn of 2019). I therefore emailed and phoned the Electoral Register claiming my poll card that eventually, very much delayed, arrived on time. In the previous two EU elections when I voted in London, in 2009 and in 2014, there was no need for me to remind my local authority to send me the form, that arrived automatically largely before the Elections Day.

Know thyself: reading Parliamentary debates

Intertwined with all the debates about Brexit implementation, the Article 50 Extension and the Withdrawal Bill, the issue of if and how the EU elections should take place has influenced all the other possible approaches and views of the matter, including of course any consideration about the practicalities and procedures needed to ensure the right to vote for EU nationals permanently resident in the UK.

I have browsed the parliamentary chronicles with much sorrow and a little incredulity to see how did it happen that MPs and Lords have ignored our perspective and considered it, in the end, so irrelevant against the backdrop of overconfidence in a process that was only hypothetical, not at all institutionalised or legitimated and very politically, and hectically, driven.

From the day after the Referendum in 2016 until just few months before the Elections, when it was clear that the UK would not leave the EU as initially planned on the 31 March, it seems nobody had any representation to make.

It was on the 18 March 2019 that eventually the conservative MP James Duddridge raised a doubt about the assumption that the European Elections could be avoided.

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Kwasi Kwarteng, sadly confirmed the error of judgement: - Will the Minister rule out the possibility of our taking part in the European elections? was the question

And the answer: - I would love to do that, but my hon. friend knows that the way to have done so would have been to vote for the deal [the Withdrawal Bill negotiated with the EU by PM Theresa May and rejected by Parliament] so that we could have left on the required date. If the extension is two years, of course I cannot rule out the possibility that these elections might be held, because my understanding is that it is a matter of law that we should have representation in that Parliament.

How such surreal conversation could ever be conceived just two months before the Elections?

Surprisingly, my disappointment turned into something that I cannot define other than ... compassion. It was like reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The reality of legal and institutional processes and practices unfolded as it was unfamiliar and fundamentally unwanted by several MPs and Lords.

In the House of Lords, on the 25th March, without offering any rationale for such a strong opinion, Lord Callanan stated that "it would be wrong to ask the people of the United Kingdom, three years after voting to leave the EU, to then vote in the European elections."

How can be wrong to ask the people to take part in elections they themselves have asked for, for which they have chosen representatives and while the Brexit process has not even found yet a practical way through Parliament?

In a Committee of the House of Commons nobody could spell it out more clearly than Sir William Cash when on the 3rd April he said: "I have heard it mentioned that the elections would cost £100 million, which is quite a lot of money for nothing. In some constituencies, as it happens, there have been turnouts of about 19%. European elections are a complete farce anyway. In fact, I think the European Parliament is a complete farce. Frankly, getting rid of the elections altogether would be a massive step in the right direction."

Sir Cash's consideration came few days after discussions between the Cabinet Office and regional returning officers (i.e., officers responsibile for the voting procedures) actually took place, at the beginning of March - according to some references I found in parliamentary records.

However it is not clear how the Government instructed the local authorities on the point but for a possible hovering, disruptive and inconclusive message.

In fact, populist and staffed with the most ruthless attitude towards the EU institutions, independently from any rationale, the hostility towards the idea of holding EU elections dominated the Government and in general the Conservatives approach to the matter with the same PM endorsing and repeatedly offering the hypothesis of no need and no willing to take part in the process simply because another parallel process, the Brexit delivery, was going on and had started long earlier (after the 2016 Referendum): so, for instance, on the 11 April, Theresa May said in the Commons Chamber "I absolutely agree that we should be working to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal, and without having to hold those European parliamentary elections".

And again Baroness Evans of Bowes Park in the House of Lords on the 11 April said it clearly: "As the Prime Minister has set out in this Statement, we want to avoid having European elections. This is why we want to try to get the deal through as quickly as we can. However, I am afraid we have explored every avenue to see whether European Parliament elections can be avoided we are not alone in Europe in having done so but the way the elections are written into the treaties means that they are unavoidable unless we leave the EU before 22 May".

On the 24th April, less than one month away from the known deadline, Cat Smith (Labour) addressed the Cabinet Officer Parliamentary Secretary Kevin Foster with a snapshot of the issue that seems not giving any space to possible misunderstandings or ambiguous representations:

"There are currently 2 million European citizens registered to vote in the UK, many of whom will be using their votes in the local elections next Thursday. However, in order to be eligible to vote in the European elections on 23 May, they will need to complete some paperwork. So far, fewer than 300 of those citizens have completed the paperwork, which would usually have been distributed by electoral registration officers from January onwards. Due to the short timescale for the administration of the European elections, I have heard that many European citizens are considering taking legal action against the Government. What consideration has the Minister given to that, and what measures could the Government take to help European citizens use their vote in the European elections here in the UK?"

And yet the reply on the factual point was put off, the Minister exhibited a mind-reading preference for a political innuendo instead when he concluded: "I am happy to look at the issue, respond to her in writing and lay a copy of that response in the House Library".

The day after, on the 25th April, the process was once again reminded to Parliament by Catherine West as a matter of urgent consideration. She eventually and dramatically suggested practical remedies and mitigation outside the regular, usual procedure adopted by the local authorities that was at that point already compromised. Local authorities - she asked - could be permitted to "register automatically EU citizens who are already registered to vote in next week's local elections, on 2 May, so that they can participate in the European elections a mere 21 days later?" The MP must have genuinely thought that a practical quick and dirty solution could solve the impasse.

This really seems a Garcia Marquez's story. Can you imagine if the same type of reasoning was applied to any other area of public interest in which because of some pitiful and absurd procedural errors already occurred, instead of putting things back on track we make it worse introducing even further last minute, improvised policies and regulations?

At this point, the Government Minister Brandon Lewis prudently reminded Parliament in the reality of dull norms and regulations saying (what a surprise, I know!) that "the advice from the Electoral Commission was to follow the same processes established in previous EU elections with regulations that date back to 2001, filling a simple form, so that the EU citizens could be legally protected from or warned about the theoretical risk of registering to vote twice" (risk that had in the meantime disappeared in this instance, simply because the deadline to register to vote in other EU states had passed beside the fact that the whole of the option sounds completely unrealistic).

He concluded: "This is about ensuring that European residents who want to vote here and have not already registered to vote in their home member state, which we have been recommending for a year that they do, are able to register should they wish to do so."

Overconfidence in mega projects

Overconfidence in a certain way to tackle a wicked or controversial matter, either political or technical, has been recognised as one of the major reasons why mega projects tend to fail miserably after years, sometimes decades, of erroneous judgements about procedural matters.

The point that EU nationals could "go back to their home member states" in order to take part into the EU elections "if they wish to do so" was reiterated repeatedly by Brandon Lewis, mixing and matching legal requirements, policies and politics: "We have been very clear about advising EU citizens over the last year to make sure that, for the European elections, those who wish to vote are registered in their home member state. As I said in my opening remarks, we expect that many will have done that, but there is the opportunity, if they wish to vote in the UK should we hold these potential elections, for them to do so by filling in a UC1 form. [...] If they complete a UC1, they will be able to register to vote and then vote in the European elections, should we hold them, although obviously as a Government we would rather not hold them [...] We are potentially fighting these elections because, when Labour Members had the chance to vote for a withdrawal agreement that fits their own party policy, they decided to play politics rather than deliver on the referendum."

The debate showed a whole range of detailed mind-reading, optimistic or however biased ways of seeing the issue while projecting on the right to vote and to stand in the Elections of EU citizens living in the UK (and UK citizens living in other EU countries) the assumption that a Government policy - not legitimised by Parliament - should magically prevail on the law and ethos of the democratic system.

The former conservative MP Anna Soubry and other Labour MPs pressurised the Minister on the point of law. He repeatedly accepted that the Government would encourage everybody to follow the now accepted as "usual" rules, allowing local authorities to accept the forms EU nationals permanent residents in the UK would use to express their preference to vote in the UK - but for the fact that the "usual" distribution of such forms had not taken place in the "usual" ways. And yet, the Minister found appropriate to justify himself saying that "The reason we are in this position is that on 29 March too many Members of Parliament did not vote to leave the European Union. [...] However, I still hold to the point that my main aim is to ensure that we do not have those elections in the first place and that we honour the referendum result."

It is a bit like saying that it is alright that the doctors treat your almost dead child because of measles but you still hold your right to choose not to vaccinate your child against measles.

To be fair with the over-roasted Government Minister, I must highlight that he was also addressed with totally unnecessary and instrumental questions. The rhetoric and instrumentalism of the political ding dong took over, with the Government keeping alive the hope of not holding EU elections and the oppositions keeping asking various "special" and yet pretty much impossible arrangements in order to allow EU nationals to vote: "Why can these forms and paperwork not be available at the point where they vote? asked, again candidly, another Sarah Wollaston (Change UK). The opposition showing off ideas that the issue could be sorted just reinventing the wheel of electoral procedures out of the blue at the last minute is just the other side of the overconfidence coin the Parliament approached the problem with.

The naivety of these frantic parliamentary debates reached a peak on the 25th April, when all the discourses were - I know, it sound surreal but this is what you have been able to, dear MPs - construed around the hypothesis that the European Elections could not take place at all or indeed they could but as a last minute extraordinary and emergency matter and not as an administrative, regulated institutional event - had actually been anticipated in the Lords Chamber the day before by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab) that said "My Lords, it is quite clear that we will be fighting these elections, because the Government have not managed to get a deal to which the Commons agrees. In that case, will the Cabinet Office agree to do two things? First, will it alert EU citizens living in this country that they will be able to vote on that day if they are registered by 8 May? Will the Government, for example, remind those on the settled status list of that? Secondly, will the Government ensure that the other 27 Governments alert British citizens resident in their countries that they will be able to vote in those countries on their election dates?"

Lord Young of Cookham rebooted: "I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. It is important that EU citizens in this country and UK citizens in European countries are fully enfranchised and can take part in the European elections if they take place. I would like to pursue with the Electoral Commission some of her ideas about raising the profile of these elections, because in some European countries people may have assumed that they will not take place. I will certainly see whether further action can be taken to raise the profile of these elections. Information is of course available on the European Parliament website for those who want further details on how to vote."

On the 8th May 2019 A Labour MP, Martin Whitfield, asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell) what assessment he had made "of the adequacy of arrangements for voter registration for the forthcoming European parliamentary elections in Scotland". "I am content that the arrangements are robust" was the answer.

But the day before the Elections, Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP) asked at PM's Questions again: "Over the last few days, I have received distressed emails from a number of constituents who are EU citizens living in the UK, but who will not be able to vote tomorrow. Their predicament arises because of this Government's late decision to participate in the elections, which did not give many EU citizens enough time to fill out the necessary form declaring that they will not be voting elsewhere. Will the Prime Minister use all the power of her office to take immediate steps this afternoon to ensure that the necessary form is made available at polling stations tomorrow so that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom will not be disenfranchised?

The Prime Minister Theresa May answered: "We take every step to ensure that those who are entitled to vote in elections are indeed able to do so. The hon. and learned Lady says that it was a late decision by the Government to enter into the European elections. Of course, that decision was taken because of a decision by this House on 29 March not to agree a deal that would have made it unnecessary to hold European elections."

Se mio nonno aveva le ruote era una carriola, says an Italian proverb from the rural and very practical low Lombardia (if my grandad had the wheels he would be a wheelbarrow).


The parliamentary debates show that for long months there was no conception that a possible separation of problems - Brexit process on one side and the right to vote for EU nationals on the other - would be beneficial to all, as it is often the case in managing complex projects. These always imply organisational and structural changes at many levels and across several domains (hence the universal mantra "keep it simple").

In that, unfortunately, the matter of the EU elections and the right to vote of the EU nationals seems to have just been a wagon put on the wrong tracks, a typical example of path dependence where the change everybody wants, and pledges for, becomes then virtually impossible - and without anybody clearly be overwhelmingly responsible.

I believe that MPs have reflected in this incident a certain popular view of (mainly brexiteers) British people in that: the fact that EU nationals have now "settled status" (indefinite leave to remain) as well as the fact that the UK Government is taking measures to "leave" the EU mean to many that we are now equal to British citizens to the point that we just stop being Europeans or citizens of another Country. In sum, it is like we should just be happy and grateful for such settlement arrangement, whatever they are, forgetting we have other national identities and attached rights we came here with.

The only sensible solution to the conundrum seems to have double citizenship and leave the matter to the existing international law and not to non existing new Brexit policies and regulations.

I suspect there was a genuine, no-malice credence that there was no need for the UK to follow the procedures for the EU elections the local authorities have been very familiar with for decades because, indeed, the Government had very strongly promised such Elections would not take place. There were no grounds for making such a promise while dealing with massive institutional changes overwhelmingly controversial and evidently difficult from any point of view.

I think there is a genuine "cognitive gap" here, perhaps exploited by some but fundamentally dangerous to all. Things put forward to Parliament are not the law.

The fact that we are given "settled status" does not mean we have to give up our EU identity or other nationalities, with all the various possible legal consequences. Nor the fact that the UK Government and the UK local authorities administrative machine had prepared for a no deal Brexit with no EU elections in 2019 can justify the appalling breach of law and trust happened with the denial of the right to vote to so many EU citizens.

I would expect that if, after Brexit, EU elections do not take place anymore in the UK, the other EU Countries and the same European Union would make arrangements for us EU nationals permanently living in the UK to keep on voting by proxy, post, internet or any other means where we live.

In a wide range of circumstances EU rules or other bilateral agreements will still apply to the way in which we manage our lives, families and businesses here and there, and we should reasonably and legally expected to be treated legally and fairly, Brexit or non Brexit, here and there.

Perhaps these terribly 2019 EU elections can be the opportunity for many who work in the public sector in the UK and all throughout Europe to verify principles and practices in international law and be prepared to recognise and distinguish bias and prejudices when they look into any of the Brexit-sh matters.

Perhaps we could say - I am inspired here by the innovative advances of ITIL v 4, a very dull standard we use sometimes to manage change in major IT projects - that legitimisation more than a process should be conceived as a field of practice: it requires not just or not only consent or approval by institutional actors, interest groups, consumers or the general public but also a deep understanding of principles at the foundation of our common institutions and values.

Brexit is a sort of gigantic warm change - driven by values and beliefs - imposed onto our UK and EU cold institutions - that are instead driven by the rule of law.

No matter how unprecedented and magnificent or horrific it may seem to you, dear MPs, this type of change requires first of all a way of thinking and behaving you do not want to stop leading - so that people can keep following you. Please stop the risks of other cold showers on EU nationals. We have enough surprises from the weather.