‘Enough is enough’: Brits living in Europe take citizens’ rights fight to London

As the clock ticks down and the spectre of a no-deal Brexit potentially looms, rights groups representing Britons living in the EU and EU citizens in the UK took their struggle to Westminster on Monday.

'Enough is enough': Brits living in Europe take citizens' rights fight to London
Campaigners from British in Europe and the 3Million deliver their letter to the British PM at Downing Street on Monday. Photo: British in Europe

They called on the UK and the EU to safeguard the post-Brexit citizenship rights of approximately five million people living in the UK and the EU. The call comes on a day of action branded ‘the last mile citizens' lobby’.

Campaigners formed a human chain on Monday November 5th from Parliament Square to 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British PM Theresa May, to deliver a letter from the rights groups outlining demands for citizenship rights to be protected and ring-fenced regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

“Enough is enough – we need the UK government and the EU to honour the commitments already made to us during the negotiations, no matter what,” said a statement from British in Europe.

“We are campaigning, alongside our friends the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK, for the UK government and the EU to commit now to ring-fencing and implementing the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement under Article 50 – no matter what the outcome on Brexit.”

“You jointly have it within your powers to end this nightmare immediately for over 4 million of us, by taking the true moral high ground and publicly committing to honouring these agreements on our rights – whatever the outcome of the rest of the negotiations,” the3million and British in Europe wrote in an open letter to the UK’s and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiators in September.  

Participants in the human chain included social care workers, nurses, unpaid carers and other people who could fall victim to a hostile environment if their rights are not secured in a no-deal scenario. There will also be a rally in Parliament Square and a mass lobby of MPs in Parliament. 

For those who couldn't attend in person but wanted to participate, the grassroots rights movement British in Europe is calling on people to join its e-lobby by sending a letter to their local MP or by taking to Twitter.

The EU and the UK agreed on a package of reciprocal rights for citizens post-Brexit in the so-called Withdrawal Agreement, first announced in December 2017 and confirmed in a final draft in March 2018.

But those rights are contingent to the UK and the EU reaching agreement on the broader and outstanding Brexit issues, which include the ongoing problem of the Irish border. Campaigners fear they will be left high and dry if the withdrawal agreement is scrapped.

The day of action and the campaign to ring-fence rights regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations has the broad support of a group of cross-party British MPs.

“Fairness, common sense and mutual interest all dictate the rights of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in Europe should be protected after Brexit. I entirely support those who are campaigning to ensure that this happens,” Dominic Grieve QC, Conservative MP and former Attorney General, will tell Parliament in an address on Monday, according to a statement by British in Europe.

“A significant amount of the anxiety EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in the EU are experiencing about their futures could be alleviated by the UK government seeking agreement with the EU that they will honour their agreement on citizens' rights, even in the event of no deal,” Paul Blomfield, Labour MP and shadow Brexit minister, is expected to add.

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP, will say in his address to parliament that “five million people have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for more than two years now.

The government must guarantee – in law – the rights of all EU citizens in the UK, no matter the outcome of the negotiations.”

The campaign has not only found cross-party support in the UK, but support from European politicians too.

“I am directly affected by this issue,” French Senator Olivier Cadic, who is resident in the UK and represents French citizens in the country, told The Local.

“After more than two years and five months since the referendum it is totally unbelievable to still not know what Brexit means.”

Cadic has joined the campaign to ring-fence citizens rights because he suspects a no-deal Brexit “looks increasingly likely” due to the impasse on the issue of the Irish border. “

“How can we prepare for a no-deal Brexit?” said Cadic, noting that many citizens have already made arrangements based on the terms in the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Thousands of Brits in France are in the process of applying for a Carte de Séjour residency permit as they have been advised to do by France's Ministry of Interior.

Thousands of Brits across Europe are also applying to gain citizenship of their adopted countries as a way of guaranteeing their rights.

Member comments

  1. The French Minister of the Interior has asked us to apply for a Carte de Séjour, but how can we do that when the prefecture only releases a very small number of appointment times at midnight on a Sunday? I have been trying for weeks to get an appointment, getting more and more fretful as time goes on. Politicians, please sort it out!

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.