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BREXIT

OPINION: If the UK won’t stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it’s down to us

Writing in The Local, Jane Golding, the co-chair of campaign group British in Europe explains what she'll be doing to mark Brexit on Friday, how the loss of freedom of movement is such an emotional and financial blow to many and how it feels to be neglected by a British government who promised Brits in the EU their rights would be protected.

OPINION: If the UK won't stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it's down to us

What will you be doing on Friday night at 11 pm (or midnight)?

Like many British people on the continent, I haven’t decided. I fluctuate between wanting to mark Brexit quietly but symbolically with some friends in Berlin, or just staying home with my husband and going across the road to our local bar for a couple of strong cocktails. 

Or maybe just going to bed and hiding under the duvet.

Whatever I end up doing, the mood deep down will be sadness.

Then there is the exhaustion and physical toll from three years of campaigning to limit the damage that Brexit is causing to the 1.3 million of us who live in an EU 27 country.

Jane Golding gives a presentation to the Joint EP Committee Citizens' Rights hearing. Photo: Screengrab udiovisual.ec.europa.eu

And watching first-hand how the government that is supposed to be fighting our corner has led the race to the bottom in removing the indispensable rights on which we have built our lives has made me wonder what the value of British citizenship is – if this government had really cared about our rights, they would have made good on their pledge to give us back our votes in the Referendum and last three national votes. 

There is also the frustration of how we have been portrayed in some of the media – obviously I didn’t move to Berlin for a place in the sun! 

But I will be with my German husband and that matters hugely.

You see, he understands, as a former GDR citizen, about hard borders and separation.  He knows why free movement is important to me and he frankly doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go backwards.

And binational marriages and relationships between UK and other EU citizens like ours are a key part of the integration that has been fundamental to the success of the European project.  We’re together, but not the same – and that’s a good thing.

At its heart, the European project is one of peace, solidarity and cooperation, designed to bring people and cultures together, so that conflict becomes unthinkable. 

This is what my British father who, aged 20, was moving across Europe with the Allies and my German father-in-law who, aged 16, survived the bombing of Dresden, hoped for – for their children and their grandchildren.

British in Europe's Jane Golding (centre) and Kalba Meadows (left) along with the3million's Nicolas Hatton deliver a message to Downing Street. Photo: AFP

Together with our 3 million EU friends living in the UK, we make up nearly one third of all EU citizens who use their free movement rights.  

We are the people who have seized all the opportunities that EU citizenship and the fundamental freedoms have given us and taken them far beyond what the founding fathers dreamt of. The children of the European project.

This is why losing free movement and its associated cross border working rights are such an emotional blow for many.  Under the Withdrawal Agreement Brits in the EU will be able to stay and work in the country that they are resident in on Brexit day. This is a welcome step. But it is limited to that one country.  

This loss of free movement has practical consequences for the 80 percent of us who are working age or younger.  For many, crossing a border for work is like going out to buy bread. It’s something we do every week. Without it, many actual breadwinners will struggle to pay their rents, mortgages and provide for their families as they simply won’t be as attractive to employers or clients anymore.

We want to be able to carry on fighting for free movement as a priority in the future relationship negotiations. But campaigning has taken an economic (as well as emotional)  toll on our volunteers, many of whom are working full time, and have families themselves.

This is why we are asking supporters of our work to consider setting up a standing order to help us carry on our work in Phase 2 of the negotiations.  Someone needs to stand up for UK nationals on the continent. If the British Government isn’t going to do it or give us our votes back, it looks as though it will have to be us.

To find out more about how to donate to British in Europe you can CLICK HERE.

In the week running up to Brexit, British in Europe have been publishing detailed analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement and what it means for Britons across the EU. You can find out more HERE.

 

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BREXIT

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.

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