Expats' rights remain under threat
Frustration increases over failure to secure post-Brexit rights
Frustration increases over failure to secure post-Brexit rights say campaigners representing British expats
FRUSTRATIONS are mounting over the failure to secure guaranteed citizens’ rights post-Brexit with “livelihoods put at risk”, say campaigners representing expats.
An estimated 1.2 million UK nationals live in Europe – the largest number reside in Spain – and over 3 million European Union citizens are resident in Britain.
However, despite the promises life would largely remain unchanged after Brexit on March 29, next year, and the 'reduction' of rights proposed in last December’s draft agreement with the EU, the British in Europe alliance stresses expats are not protected.
The group’s chair Jane Golding believes that whether negotiators achieve a deal or the UK quits without an agreement, only remaining in the EU guarantees to protect Brits abroad.
And the group supports a People’s Vote – a referendum to approve any deal struck with Brussels – and calls for the UK government to uphold its 2015 and 2017 manifesto promise to give all British people a ‘vote for life’.
“We set British in Europe up to fight to protect all UK citizens who used their rights as UK citizens to live and work in another EU country,” she said.
“Nearly 80% of us are working age or younger and Brexit threatens our livelihoods and the lives we have built up with our families in other countries through our own hard work...and yet more than 60% of us had no vote in the referendum.”
She said the 'unglamorous, unsexy work' never commanded headlines because it involved real people rather than the 'seemingly intractable' arguments over borders and trade.
Jane added: “The pro-Brexit press and politicians show no interest because we don’t fit their agenda, although they and the UK government can’t say so because we are claimed to be the reason why the rights of EU citizens in the UK are still not guaranteed.
“It is funny therefore, that, along with our sister group the3million, our requests for meetings with Theresa May, the Brexit Secretaries and the Home Secretary have gone unanswered; although, Michel Barnier (the EU chief negotiator) has met us twice.”
She said British in Europe attempted to remain neutral, patient and keep things in perspective but “faced with the prospect of either being sold out in a bad deal or the prospect of a no deal” it was impossible to sit on the fence any longer.
Jane said expats were promised their lives would carry on 'exactly' as normal after Brexit; an undertaking by first Vote Leave and by both Theresa May and Michel Barnier.
“This is particularly important because, if you are going to exclude from voting the very people whose lives hang on the outcome of a vote, then you have an extra special duty of care to fight for them as a hard as possible.”
But she said, even with a deal, there was no sign of this care in negotiations – in particular because “Theresa May has not fought for our continuing free movement right, which many of us rely on to provide for our families.
“Her negotiating position from the beginning has prioritised reducing the rights of EU citizens in the UK over supporting ours.”
Jane argued this meant rights would only protected in an expats current of residence and even then not all of them. “This puts our livelihoods at risk.”
And she said a no deal risked throwing the lives of many expats 'into turmoil' as they lost legal status and could only hope there was an emergency deal to retain rights.
“Our personal limbo is also an apolitical litmus test for the kind of future relationship deal that the UK is prepared to fight for on behalf of its citizens...and if this is all we have got, it doesn’t look good for Brits in the UK, especially those who hoped Brexit would mean more control and a better quality of life.”
She added: “As children of the European project who have lived its benefits first hand and know what future generations in the UK are set to lose, enough is enough.
“We have no choice but to accept that the only solution to protect our lives and livelihoods – and the EU citizens in the UK – as well as those of all Brits in the UK, is to remain in the EU.”