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Why we’re marching: Scores of Brits in France head to London to demand People’s Vote on Brexit

Scores of Britons are preparing to head across the Channel to join Saturday's march in London to demand a People's Vote on Brexit, while others will hold solidarity events in France. Kalba Meadows from Remain in France Together (RIFT) explains why Brits in the EU cannot stay silent.

Why we're marching: Scores of Brits in France head to London to demand People's Vote on Brexit
The People's Vote March on Saturday. Photo: NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP

This Saturday, at least 200 Brits from France will be in London, joining hundreds of other British in Europe from across the EU27 and EU citizens living in the UK – plus (hopefully!) hundreds of thousands of others – at the People’s Vote March for the Future.

It’s a big ask for a Brit living in Europe to fly or drive across the Channel just for a few hours’ manif,  especially when for many of us it’s the third or even fourth time we’ve done it since June 2016. It takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes money.

So why are we doing it again? Simple. Because we can’t and won’t stay sitting down and silent when Brexit still threatens to remove some of our rights.

The march on 20 October is – like its predecessor in June – all about demanding a People’s Vote on Brexit: on the terms of any deal, and on whether the UK should simply remain in the EU instead (hmm – bit of a no-brainer for us, that one!).

But this time those of us travelling from France and elsewhere in the EU have another agenda too: we are coming together in a public show of solidarity with our friends the EU citizens who live in the UK.

The campaign and advocacy group British in Europe has worked hand in hand with our counterpart “the3million” for two years now, and our friendship and collaboration has been one of the few positives to come out of Brexit. We’ll be meeting and marching together as The 5 Million to celebrate that friendship as well as our shared European-ness.

If you’re watching the march on TV, look for a sea of white amongst the widespread blue and yellow … that’ll be us!

There is a more serious side too, of course: EU citizens living in the UK couldn’t vote in the referendum unless they were already British citizens, just as more than 60% of the estimated 4.9 million British people living abroad were barred from voting by the 15 year rule.

And that means that even if there is a People’s Vote it would need a change in the franchise for most of us to be able to take part.

Yet Brexit will fundamentally challenge the terms on which we currently living our lives. So we at British in Europe, alongside the3million, Final Say for All and EU Citizens' Champions, are marching to demand a place for EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU in any People’s Vote.

We are the people too. In fact together, we are 5 million people, and every one of us is 'one of the five million'.

Every one of us marching in London on Saturday takes with us in spirit another few hundred people who can’t be there in person. We’ll be there for all of you – please support us. Read on to find out how.

Photo: AFP

Solidarity events in France

Two events are being organised in France on Saturday 20 October by members of the campaign group Remain in France Together, one in Toulouse and another in Limoges. These are not marches or protests, but gatherings in solidarity with the London march. If you can get to either of these cities, please join in!

Toulouse, Capitol, from 11am until 2pm. Organiser Julie Hall says “In solidarity with the March for the People’s vote, we’ll be there to highlight the consequences of no vote. 350,000 French citizens living and working in the U.K. have been living in limbo for over 2 years.

We want to present their stories to Toulouse, inform, ask for support for the 5 million living in limbo and bring discussion about the people’s vote into France.”

Limoges, Jardin Champs Juillet from 10 am. Organiser Janette McLenahan says “We are gathering in solidarity, showing our support for the march for Europe. Some press will be there too. Bring a picnic and your own ideas for the day”.

The Last Mile citizens’ lobby

Our presence at the London march is part of a multi-part joint action over a 6 week period which we have termed The Last Mile. In spite of all the promises made by both sides of the negotiating table, our rights are still not sorted and there is very little time left to make a difference.

Most of us have been watching the rollercoaster events in the UK Parliament this week with our hearts in our mouths. Will there be a deal? Won’t there? And the question on our lips: where does all of this leave us?

Talk is in the air of unilateral agreements. 

Theresa May has said that she wants to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK even if there isn’t a deal. France is proposing to pass a decree that would open the way to protect at least some of the rights of British people living in France even if there were no deal. But promises don’t protect people – only properly binding treaties do that.

That’s why we’re asking both the EU and the UK to give us true peace of mind for the future, by protecting and guaranteeing our existing rights under international law using the Article 50 procedure.

In the next article I’ll tell you more about this and explain why we don’t believe that unilateral arrangements can be anything more than a last-ditch, all-else-has-failed solution. I’ll also tell you how you can take part in the Last Mile citizens’ lobby and do your bit to help properly secure your rights.

Kalba Meadows is citizens' rights coordinator of the group Remain in France Together, and a member of the steering committee of British in Europe.


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France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport.