The European Union flag flies in front of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP
Brits in France must act together with Brits around Europe so a no-deal Brexit doesn't become a nightmare that ruins their lives in France, argues Kalba Meadows from Remain in France Together
Promises don't protect people
The People's Vote march is over – you probably saw it in the media, passing all expectations of numbers with some 700,000 participants.
Among them were around 400 Brits living in all four corners of the EU, who came together to meet and march together alongside our friends the EU citizens in the UK. We walked, we talked, we chanted, we danced our way through London's streets and if we only made it, because of sheer numbers, as far as Trafalgar Square, it didn't detract at all from the fantastic sense of solidarity that was the keynote of the day for us all.
But the campaign to defend our rights is not over: even before the wheels of my plane home hit the tarmac it was back to working on the next phase of our vital Last Mile Citizens' Lobby. And that's where you come in.
There is an urgency in the Brexit negotiations, and it's not just the Irish border.
Five million EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU are at risk of losing their existing rights on 29 March without a deal between Westminster and Brussels. And that includes you. If there is No Deal, unless something is done in the next five months 1.2m UK citizens across the EU27 States could wake up as illegal immigrants with no rights on 30 March 2019.
France and No Deal
The French government is taking the possibility of No Deal very seriously, and is proposing to put into place a decree – enabling legislation – that would permit quickly-passed laws for ‘legalising' Brits living here and protecting at least some of our rights if the worst should happen. It should be coming before the Senate in 10 days or so, in fact.
So that's okay then, isn't it? We're safe.
Well, no, not exactly. It's better than nothing, and kind of reassuring to know that our host country's government at least has us in mind. But there are several problems with this kind of unilateral promise of rights – in fact it's the worst of all possible solutions.
Here's why. There are no guarantees and it would be unenforceable. At any point in the future, a French government could simply change its mind and go back on what it had said it would do. This is not at all a fanciful consideration in the current political climate. It wouldn't cover those aspects of our rights currently dealt with by on a reciprocal basis: provision of health care via the S1 system, aggregation of pension contributions, payment of some social security and other benefits and continued recognition of qualifications.
The Minister for Europe, Nathalie Loiseau, has repeatedly stated that France's primary interest is in the treatment of its own nationals living in the UK. The draft decree is clear: any rights accorded to resident Brits in a No Deal Brexit would only be equal to those given by the UK to French citizens living in the UK. Any reduction in rights on the other side of the Channel would be matched by a corresponding reduction in our own rights.
Add this to point 1 above and you can see that we would risk being perpetual bargaining chips, never certain that our rights would endure. This is no way to live.
So what's the alternative?
Here is one simple, moral and obvious solution: to ring-fence the citizens' rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement. In other words for the negotiators to agree, now, that even if they can agree nothing else, the agreement already made in draft on citizens' rights will stand as the only agreement under Article 50.
What's different about citizens' rights is that both sides have said right from the start that preserving them is their number one priority, to be dealt with quite apart from Ireland and widgets and trade deals. On the assumption that this was said honestly, quite frankly neither side has anything to gain from making the citizens' rights agreement conditional on any other. We are human beings, not bargaining chips.
And so this is what we're focusing on in the Last Mile Citizens' Lobby. British in Europe is hard at work talking to politicians and officials in the EU and right across the EU27 (including in France – more about that soon). But on 5 November we're focusing our efforts on the UK Parliament, and we need your help and support.
Remember, remember the 5th of November British in Europe and the3million are going to Parliament – not with gunpowder, but in a mass lobby of MPs. Before that, we'll be forming a human chain from Parliament Square to Downing Street, where 6 of us (including me) will be handing over a letter to Theresa May at Number Ten.
If you can join us in London you'll be very welcome indeed. But even if you can't, you can join in the mass lobby, and you don't even need to leave your armchair.
Join the e-lobby
All you have to do is personalise our pre-written letter and send it to your MP, to ask them to do 2 things: Support our campaign for ring-fencing by signing this simple pledge “I support honouring under Article 50, as a minimum, the agreement already reached on citizens' rights, whatever the outcome on Brexit”.
Come and meet committee members of British in Europe and the3million at Parliament on the afternoon of 5 November, where we can explain why ring-fencing is so important.
We need thousands of people to take part. And it's now or never.
All the instructions, and the template letter for you to use, are here
Don't let a No-Deal become a nightmare that will haunt our lives in France for years to come. More than ever, we must all come together now to make sure that this doesn't happen. The e-lobby is open now, and will take you no more than 20 minutes. Please get involved.
No plot. No powder. Just people and their lives.