On Saturday October 12th, British citizens from Spain joined me in London to protest Brexit and demand that our rights be protected. Despite the rain, three separate events took place around Westminster, the largest being Rally 4 Our Rights.
Occurring in various locations, the rally focused on the human cost of Brexit, which is frequently overlooked in the Brexit debate. In particular, the rights that all British citizens stand to lose (regardless of their position regarding Brexit), as well as the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK – collectively known as #the5Million.
Speakers included campaigners for citizens’ rights and human rights, anti-Brexit campaigners from the UK and EU, and UK and EU politicians. Passionate speeches were delivered by Julie Ward MEP and by Tom Brake MP. Both speakers have strongly advocated the protection of our rights from the start, and it has been a privilege to work with them.
Other speakers included “Mr Stop Brexit”, Steven Bray; CEO of Best for Britain, Naomi Smith; and barrister and human rights campaigner, Jessica Simor QC.
It was a pleasure to work again with Elena Remigi, Founder of In Limbo, and Debbie Williams, Chair of Brexpats – Hear our Voice. They both read heart-breaking testimonies from both sides of the Channel, that highlighted how our long-standing situation is painful and unsettling. They also talked about rights that are at risk, especially with a no-deal Brexit.
Many citizens’ rights campaigners are working closely with the UK government and European Parliament to ensure our rights are protected, regardless of what happens with Brexit. A campaign has been fought to ringfence our rights, or at least those protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. However, neither the UK nor EU governments have showed any willingness towards implementing ring-fencing. Secondly, although some important rights would be protected, we would still see our rights generally diminished.
In my speech, I reiterated my strong belief that the only way to protect all our rights is to stop Brexit altogether. Anything less – except, maybe a very soft Brexit, for which there is limited support in Westminster – would see us lose some of our rights. I, for one, am not prepared to relinquish any of my rights!
I also described our anger about how the UK government has treated us. We’ve been ignored, treated as bargaining chips and hung out to dry. The letter that pensioners in Spain received last week from the NHS did nothing to change that opinion.
The first sentence read: “The UK is leaving the European Union on 31st October 2019.” That’s simply not true, as an extension is now the most likely outcome, and starting a letter with a misleading statement is not a good look!
The letter went on to say: “At the moment, we understand you get state-funded healthcare under something known as the S1 scheme” – the implication being that the present situation may not continue. It’s hardly surprising that British pensioners throughout the EU are furious at the prospect of losing the health cover their lifelong contributions had presumably secured for life. As I said in my speech, it’s not the government’s money, it’s ours – we lent it to the government in good faith.
If the earlier letter wasn’t enough, Dominic Raab’s open letter to British citizens in Spain, added further insult on Friday. His interpretation that this was an “exciting time” received swift and strong criticism, and a long supply of alternative adjectives, mostly unprintable!
While consecutive Conservative governments are undoubtedly responsible for our current plight, in my speech, I saved some of my criticism for the opposition parties. Cameron, May and Johnson may have landed us into this mess, but we need parliament to extract us. That means that Labour, SNP, LibDems and the other opposition parties must work together.
The opposition parties have already proved it’s possible for them to cooperate for the greater good. The Benn Act, which aims to force Johnson to request an extension if he fails to secure a deal, is a great example of collaboration. However, the party leaders have been as guilty of electioneering as Johnson, and it’s time for the point-scoring and mud-slinging to stop. It’s time everyone worked together to fight for our future – “a future free of borders, a future free of Boris, a future free of Brexit”.
There’s still time to stop Brexit, and to make a difference personally. Many Brits from Spain will be doing just that next weekend, when they join me in London for the “Let Us Be Heard” People’s Vote march, scheduled on the day of Johnson’s emergency parliamentary session. Expectations are that it will be the biggest protest in British history, with over one million expected to participate.
The parliamentary session on “super Saturday” could include a vote between Johnson’s new deal (if he has one) and a delay. It could also include a vote on a #FinalSay referendum. It would be quite something if, on the very day we march on Westminster for a #PeoplesVote, parliament actually votes for one.
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain
- Reciprocity or nothing: Brits in Spain will have rights withdrawn if UK doesn't give same guarantees to Spaniards
- No-deal or no impact: What do the Spanish think of Brexit?
- Healthcare in Spain after Brexit: What you need to know