Your Views: Brits in France demand second referendum but some remain wary

Brits living in France, who are among those most affected by the UK leaving the EU, believe the best way out of the Brexit debacle is to have a second referendum.

Your Views: Brits in France demand second referendum but some remain wary
Photo: AFP

Calls to have a second a referendum on Britain's exit from the European Union have grown louder in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, the question of whether to have a so-called People's Vote, as it has been dubbed, was the hot issue at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, after party members demanded the question be debated.

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly refused to even consider the idea of a second referendum, arguing that do so would be to undermine democracy and would result in the public losing faith in their politicians.

But Britons in France, who are among those groups who stand to be most affected by Brexit, especially if the UK crashes out without a deal, are adamant that democracy was already undermined in the first referendum, not least because many were barred from voting due to the 15-year rule and also because of the “lies” told by the Leave camp.

To give an idea of the strength of feeling for a second referendum, some 82 percent of readers polled on our Facebook page are in favour of another vote compared to 18 percent who don't think it's the best way forward. On Twitter 63 percent of respondents backed a People's Vote.

Most of those who favour a second referendum believe the public are now better informed than in the run up to the fist vote. 

“The first referendum did not give voters a chance to vote on their future just an ideal. A second referendum should allow people the opportunity to make an informed choice – if they choose to be informed. Anything less is a dereliction of public duty,” said Rebecca Jackson, who lives in Pyrenees-Atlantique in south western France.

Wayne Salter from the Ain department in eastern France said: “In a democracy it is the right and reasonable thing to do. Give people a chance to vote on the actual deal, which whether it is a real deal or no deal will be something concrete which people can intellectually examine for its merits, and not some unfounded ideal based on lies and misinformation.”

While it is unclear what the options would be any “People's Vote”, many believe it must include an option to end Brexit and remain the EU, rather than just vote on the final terms of any deal. 

Francis White, who lives in the department of Tarn in the south west, said: “Of course it is worth going through it all again. Both Remainers and Brexiteers should embrace the opportunity to vote following a public debate that has helped everyone to be more informed.”

And one British resident of Brittany said: “First one was based on lies the public were fed and fell for. Many many Brits in the EU are not able to vote and even those here that were, never received any papers or until too late.”

Part of the reason behind the growing momentum for a “People's Vote” is the increasing possibility that Britain could crash out of the EU with no deal.

PM Theresa May admitted last week that talks with Brussels were at an “impasse” and repeated her threat to leave without a deal unless the EU accepts her proposals or comes up with a viable alternative.

Her speech prompted anger among campaigners for the rights of Britons living in the EU who were furious that the Prime Minister did not mention them in her speech.

At the same time anxiety levels have risen among Britons in France as the government publishes a series of impact notices aimed at warning the public of the knock-on effects of Britain and the EU not reaching a withdrawal deal.

They have been told that they could lose access to UK bank accounts, see their driving licences become invalid and face disruption on flights between the UK and the EU.

And all this while their future status in France has still not been guaranteed.

But Teresa Sorokin, from Brittany summed up the frustration of many Britons in France who simply wouldn't have a voice in any “People's Vote” despite having been promised one. She is one of thousands who have lived away from Britain for over 15 years, meaning they lose the right to vote.

“I voted remain and would do so again in a heartbeat but from this October I'm disenfranchised,” she said.

“I'm incandescent that despite election promises, the referendum was called without first overturning the 15 year rule. Now I cannot imagine anyone sane still wanting Brexit after learning about the lies that brought about this dismal state of affairs.”

Yet some Britons in France remain wary about the idea of a second referendum, not least because it would allow hardline Brexiteers like Nigel Farage to take to the campaign trail once again. 

“I’m cynical about another vote though I would dearly like one. I suspect more untruths would be paraded by Brexiteers,” said Jo Pocket who lives in Aude.

Many are also concerned that another referendum would sow more division between the two sides.

While others are simply wary that another vote could end in the same result.

Linda Lovelock from Dordogne added: “It's such an important issue with such enormous consequences that I think it needs further consideration. Whether it will result in a different outcome, I'm not so sure, as most people seem to be of the same opinion as before, but I still think it is necessary.”

To avoid entrenching the already bitter divisions some argue that instead of another referendum it should be lawmakers in the UK parliament who bring a halt to Brexit.

“Parliament should just take the decision to remain as they actually know that this is the best thing for the people whose interests they were elected to stand up for and they have the time and resources to make an informed decision,” said Chris Ashton from Lyon.

“Passing it back to the population is a cop out and a failure to do their job.”

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”