My EU citizen's rights were taken without me having a say
Alice Bouilliez, 61, a retired British civil servant from Gers, is the main claimant in a legal case being referred to the European Court of Justice for a decision over whether Britons should keep their EU citizenship. Here she explains further her motivations.
Mrs Bouilliez has written this piece following on from our publication of the news of the case being taken by French lawyer Julien Fouchet on her behalf, in our January edition.
Here I am, a citizen of the European Union whose rights and privileges have been stripped away from me without me being able to vote on the matter [because Britons abroad for more than 15 years lose voting rights].
Who is it that dares to say that I no longer naturally belong where I have made my home in total legality? That I should need a carte de séjour to confirm my duty to the state in which I live and work, when only yesterday I enjoyed full and fair rights and privileges?
My only privilege now is to pay my taxes; with what in return? Do I have freedom of movement to live and work in 27 countries? No! Why not? Because people living in a country that saw my birth, 1,000 miles away, and where I can no longer vote, who know nothing of my situation, have decided that ‘they’ are better off stripping ‘my’ rights away. What utter nonsense. How unfair is that?
The treaties demand that decisions on the welfare of European Citizens be taken as close as possible to the people concerned. Those people who voted in the referendum in 2016 live very far away from me.
They have other preoccupations, such as fishing rights or sovereignty, with gunboats to back up their arguments.
Those arguments had nothing to do with my situation and yet I have been fully affected by them in a negative way. I have lost my only rights to vote anywhere as a consequence, as well as my freedom of movement.
The mass media try to tell me that I am no longer a European Citizen but civis europeus sum! Once a European citizen, always a European citizen.
Rupert Murdoch was [in 2011, in relation to phone hacking allegations] visibly furious about being summoned to come before the Parliamentary Select Committee and vowed his vengeance in his newspapers. He appears to have managed.
I started to campaign for our rights when I realised that there was no one in power in the UK with the slightest regard for my situation or the situation of millions of others like me.
To be disenfranchised is a horrible feeling; with one decree you are thrown back into a state similar to that of childhood. Your voice does not matter, your opinions do not change anything. There is a feeling of being bereft.
The suffragettes were not fighting for something that they had lost nor for something that they had previously held. They were fighting for new rights. The arguments of the suffragettes and the abolitionist movement in the USA are just as valid now as they ever were.
I am fighting to regain my rights, to be counted as a grown-up adult.
What happens when you lose the right to vote? You are disenfranchised, this means that you become a child in the eyes of society. A child with no parent or guardian to take up your problems or worries.
Just as an orphan can ask for emancipation when his or her parents die and he or she has to take on the responsibility for a family, so do I ask to be emancipated, to be able to vote again as a fully-fledged European citizen once more.
Why was there no one there to speak up for me?
Unlike other European countries the United Kingdom has no member of parliament for those who live outside its borders. France in comparison does have parliamentary representatives for its expatriates, wherever they live in the world.
All the UK has are the consular services or the British Council (that British citizens have no access to).
Consular services have been reduced to mere trade envoys as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe [a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran since 2016 under controversial circumstances] has found to her cost. A British person outside the UK has no support or voice and there is no help.
Members of parliament are unreachable by people who are not their constituents. An MP is not allowed to reply to a letter from someone outside their constituency, as in the case of James Foley [an American journalist who was killed by Isis].
This system, or lack of it is fine if you have an MP. It is not so good if you don’t have one. The only recourse is to write to the Upper House or Her Majesty The Queen.
I wrote to Lord Hestletine in 2016 and also to Lord Adonis and to Dominic Grieve who have since become part of the European Movement. The Queen however was unable to concern herself with ‘political’ matters.
Mrs Ratcliffe has an admirable husband who has publicised her case but how many Britons are there with no protection whatsoever?
Until January 2020 Britons had access to European Union consular services and ultimately judicial help through the European Union Court system. A person accused of a crime could ask for help from any European Union embassy or consular service. This is no longer true.
What are we to say to Mrs Page who had planned to live out her retirement in a lovely house in the French countryside surrounded by her horse, her dogs and her cats, when after the referendum her income from the UK was slashed by a third due to the Brexit vote, and who is now in a retirement home in Hungerford without her beloved animals?
What do we say to my godfather, Mike Johnson, whose two girls, who have always lived in France and are having difficulty getting their cartes de séjour, or the twins who went for French nationality: One was given it, but the other was denied it.
A great many of those worst affected are recently-arrived British women, widows, divorcees, wives of EU nationals. Some with children of dual nationality. Which jurisdiction will uphold the rights of divorced couples, in the future?
Collateral damage, you might say; as if that was a fair excuse.
Life is unfair, you might say. Yes – that is the reason for the existence of the courts and their justice system. Remember, last month, that all of these people were European citizens and totally and legally within their rights to be where they are now. They are now destitute of their rights.
What should we all do in these examples?
I do not feel that it is right to wave a flag of convenience, like some clandestine ship by taking the nationality of another European country and by virtue of that be recognised once again as a European citizen (many people cannot do this for various reasons).
I still am a European citizen and wish to stay so. I was given citizenship of Europe by virtue of my country joining the European Union in 1973. Reinforced in 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty. From that moment forward I have been a European Citizen I own that citizenship. It is a fundamental status. My inalienable right, part of my being.
One thing is certain, and that is that on the January 31, 2020 I was a fully-fledged European citizen with all the rights and obligations mentioned in the European Charter of Human rights.
Since that date no one has sent me a message personally to tell me that I am no longer a European citizen. If they had I would have contested it. Instead without warning, I was made aware that I could no longer vote in the municipal elections in March 2020. My name was absent from the register, with the humiliation of being singled out.
During the Brexit negotiations we have all been told that nothing was final until everything was signed. The social side was sadly forgotten.
Why have I been discriminated against? Although everyone understands that geopolitical states are often in flux, there is a growing group of families that are spread over the whole of Europe and these people are often highly educated and possess three or more languages. They need to be able to belong to a group that has distinct protections, rights and duties.
Who pays for my European citizenship? I pay for it at the moment through taxation in my chosen country France.
When on European soil the taxes of all European citizens are collected and a proportion is ring-fenced for European projects.
When outside European soil, the taxes of European citizens have always gone to the country of residence. This should not have to change. The finances of Europe will not suffer from giving me back my rights.
Civil rights are often made to sound like some outlandish impertinence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Basic human rights are the bedrock of society.
- Mrs Bouilliez's case is one of several pro bono cases being undertaken by French avocat Julien Fouchet, who is crowdfunding towards expenses.