Campaigners for Britons in EU disappointed at lack of contact from government

CAMPAIGN groups disappointed at lack of significant efforts by British government despite claims to be ‘engaging with expats’

CAMPAIGN groups for Britons in the EU have expressed disappointment at the lack of significant contact from the British government following claims it was ‘engaging with expatriate groups’.

The white paper on the government’s Brexit aims, published last month, made the claim, saying the government wanted to “understand the priorities of UK nationals living in EU countries”. It was also repeated by Brexit Minister David Davis, speaking to parliament.

On querying the statement to the Department for Exiting the EU (Dexeu) when the paper came out, Connexion was told the contact was being coordinated by its embassy in Paris and they could not name specific groups.

However, more than a month on – and despite recent high-profile coverage of the problem in the UK national press – campaign groups told Connexion little has been done and they are especially disappointed at the lack of direct contact from Dexeu (informally known as the Brexit Ministry), in charge of organising Britain’s exit.

Roger Boaden of Ecreu, part of a coalition of 12 groups for Britons in the EU with 32,000 members, said a survey had been done among the groups about contact with the government. Half reported having no contact at all, including British in Italy who told him “no one has contacted anyone British in Italy”.

“Another group, Fair Deal for Expats, said around a month and a half after the referendum they received a very garbled phone call from someone saying they were from the government, but that was the only contact they had with any official.”

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The British Community Committee of France (BCC) had reported regular meetings with the British embassy, but not specifically on the subject of Brexit. Otherwise Mr Boaden said the only positive reports came from Luxembourg where a group said an official had addressed one of their meetings, and a Spanish group which said the consul for Alicante had attended one meeting of local groups.

Mr Boaden said: “What we think is happening is that embassies have been told to get on with it, they’ve looked down their list of contacts and made contact with someone, and now they think they’ve ticked that box.

“However there’s been no direct contact from Dexeu, with the exception of a meeting in Brussels at the end of January organised by the Church of England’s diocese for Europe, which was attended by junior Brexit Minister Lord Bridges.

“In summary, little to no real contact has been established by Dexeu or the embassies and it makes me pretty upset. It’s all very well to put it in the white paper and to stand up and say it in the House of Commons, but if it’s the intention, then get on with it.

 “We’ve now been quoted in two reports by MPs' select committees for Brexit and for health and I would have thought that at least following that, someone from Dexeu would have picked up the phone and said ‘come talk to us as well’.”

He added: “My gut tells me that there are too many Conservative back-benchers who simply want to cut us adrift. In the past on the issue of the Winter Fuel Payment, I’ve seen several letters from MPs saying ‘you moved, nobody sent you away, it’s your problem not ours, nothing to do with us’.

“Then there’s the 2014 Pensions Act which says the government can stop pension uprating by regulation, and we fear when the Great Repeal Bill gets under way it will be full of such clauses saying rights can be cancelled by regulation – in other words in statutory instruments which, unless challenged by at least 100 MPs, have no debate or vote.”

He added: “Why won’t the government be upfront and say it will protect all those things it’s responsible for? The French government doesn’t pay my pension or uprate it, it doesn’t issue my EHIC card – they’re the UK’s responsibility.

“I have friends – a wife who is an MS sufferer and her husband who is her registered carer – who are moving back to the UK because they’re frightened of losing the incapacity benefit and attendance allowance that they’re entitled to under EU rules.”

Christopher Chantrey of coalition member group the BCC, representing British associations around France, said: “When we ask around, the only contacts that I know of in France are the monthly meetings I have with the embassy; I do convey issues that are bubbling up from the grass roots, but the meetings are not new since Brexit came up.

“I wrote to David Davis at the beginning of February and haven’t had a reply, so I think if they are claiming to be engaging the least they can do is, when a representative body writes to them, to write back.

“After notification of article 50 it might move into higher gear, but would have been better to consult beforehand so as to inform the government’s strategy for dealing with this.”

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