V is sitting at his desk, opposite mine, wearing his usual jeans and t-shirt, his face bright red, his mouth agape. He’s laughing so hard that he’s reached the stage where no sound comes out.
It’s a stark contrast to the first time we met, a little over three years ago, with him wearing his best suit and a nervous expression, clutching a folder of examples of his work from his recently completed degree.
Then he was a fresh graduate, seeking a job. Today he’s watching clips from Father Ted for the first time. Before this year is out I will say ‘goodbye’ to him forever.
In case you’re wondering how somebody can only discover Father Ted by having their colleagues show them YouTube clips on a Friday afternoon in the office it’s because V is Lithuanian. He came to this country to study for his maths degree, paid his way through it by working as a night-porter in a Newcastle hotel and then, afterwards, found himself the subject of one of my haphazard interviews.
If you’ve never recruited anybody for a small company then let me tell you it’s fairly worrying. A covering letter, a CV and an hour’s chat are frightening little from which to judge an applicant’s character. Will they be honest, hard-working and competent? Will they fit in? Will they reflect well on you, the person who hired them? In a company where everyone is on first name terms there’s no place to hide hiring mistakes.
When I phoned V to tell him he’d got the job he told me he needed to give a month’s notice on his night-shift job, but said he could come into the office during the day to get trained up if it would help him when he started. Yes, he really offered to work a whole month without pay, or sleep apparently, so that he could be an effective member of staff from day one.
That commitment hasn’t waned since that phone-call. In a casual office, where most people wander in around 9:15ish, V never arrives later than 8:45, us distracting him with comedy classics aside he doesn’t dick around, he doesn’t take leisurely lunches in the pub, he’s never been off sick, he doesn’t leap up from his desk and sprint away when the day is officially over. Even though he’s working in his 3rd language his written English is perfect and his spoken English is so good that he can communicate with us Geordies!
His hard work, attention to detail and sharp mind have earned him the trust and respect of everyone he’s worked with. After a year with the company he was promoted, and again after another year. He’s now deputy manager of his team, a role he excels in.
Why then will I be saying goodbye to him?
Because of Brexit.
V and his wife want to settle down and raise a family, and it’s hard to do that in an environment where the news still debates whether EU migrants will be forced to leave the UK. They could apply for UK citizenship, and I’d imagine that getting it would be a formality, but V tells me that the problem is that they no longer feel welcome in this country. The mood of the country has changed and immigrants are no longer welcome here.
Imagine that, in our haste to “take control” we’re edging out a hard-working, healthy young couple, who pay their taxes and cost the state nothing.
Now new grad recruits come and new grad recruits go, ultimately a small company in rural Northumberland can’t offer them the salaries and career opportunities of the big companies in the big cities, but to have someone leave because this country, my country, isn’t welcoming is a terrible thing.
I doubt that V and his wife are the only ones leaving. Before any of us know what Brexit will mean for us and country there’s probably an invisible stream of economically productive people quietly packing their bags and heading home.
I doubt that Brexit will bring us anything good, but I am sure that no part of it will make me sadder or more ashamed of my country than Vexit.