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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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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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