Mass lobby spotlights citizens' Brexit rights

Campaigners gathered at the end of the day to hear more speeches - and sing - in Trafalgar Square

Campaigners for Britons in the EU and EU citizens in the UK shone a spotlight on the urgent need to conclude a Brexit agreement on their rights with a ‘mass lobby’ in London yesterday.

One of the organisers, British in Europe (BiE) chair Jane Golding, said there was a “constant stream of MPs coming into the committee rooms where we were based” to meet affected constituents and hear their concerns. Those taking part included both EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU, who met MPs for their last UK constituencies.

This comes as Downing Street has announced Prime Minister Theresa May will be going to Florence on Friday September 22 to make a speech about Brexit ahead of the next round of negotiations the following week.

“Dozens” of MPs agreed to sign a pledge on citizens’ rights at the mass lobby day, Ms Golding said. A welcome event at conference venue the Emmanuel Centre at which MPs and campaign leaders spoke was “packed” with a “real feeling of solidarity and that we are not alone”, and the day concluded with more speeches – and singing – in Trafalgar Square.

“BiE spoke again in the square as well as the3million group for EU citizens in the UK and other groups such as Another Europe is Possible, European Alternative and the organiser of the One Day Without Us campaign. We had a video message from Sadiq Kahn and public sector union Unison also took part.”

Ms Golding said “several hundred” questions were put to MPs through an ‘e-lobby’ via social media. “The majority came from British citizens in the EU so we had really good participation on that and it is probably one of the largest e-lobbies ever undertaken, so that was great.”

Ms Golding said campaigners feel there is now “more and more support” for expats from British MPs, and “we were very happy at the number of Labour MPs who turned up for the mass lobby as well as Lib Dems and SNP.”

The mass lobby day followed on from a Westminster Hall debate about the negotiations and UK citizens in the EU on Tuesday, organised by Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, which campaigners attended in the public gallery.

Ms Golding said: “It was great to get people talking about the issue and it was very well attended on the Opposition side.

“Robin Walker, a minister from DEXEU (Department for Exiting the EU), was there to respond from the government and Paul Blomfield, one of the shadow Brexit team, made some closing remarks – his office is very supportive now. He very much stressed that everything the UK does relating to EU citizens in the UK has repercussions for UK citizens in the EU.”

Campaigners’ hopes for ‘ring-fencing’ of a rights agreement was among the issues raised, Ms Golding said.

“This has not yet been addressed in the official negotiations – Michel Barnier’s attitude has been ‘we are going to be getting a deal so we don’t want to talk about ring-fencing rights, which implies there may be no deal’. However it’s gaining momentum in the European Parliament and I don’t think the UK is against it.”

Also at the debate some “interesting” new House of Commons Library figures were presented showing only 21% of UK citizens in the EU are over 65, she said.

Ms Golding said at the current stage of negotiations important problems remain to be ironed out: for example EU27 citizens fear the UK’s proposed new ‘settled status’, which they would have to apply for after Brexit, would represent a lesser status than that which they currently enjoy.

As for Britons in the EU27, campaigners are not satisfied with the EU’s offer that expats would retain the right to live in their current country, not any ‘further’ free movement rights (ie. to live in another EU country later on).

Ms Golding, a lawyer, said that in terms of EU law there is only a one kind of free movement right, not a right to live in one country and then ‘further’ movement rights.

Campaigners also believe this would be a lesser offer than what the EU originally proposed, which was for established expats to retain the rights they have now.

There are also concerns over recognition of qualifications, with the current offer being limited to British qualifications being recognised in the country of residence alone, not other EU states.

It is also proposed that expats would have to have sought formal recognition of their certificates before Brexit Day, however Ms Golding said this is a complex area of EU law and some diplomas have such recognition automatically.

Such matters are of particular concern to ‘cross-border workers’, who work in more than one country or live in one country and work in another one.

Campaigners are also concerned that not enough is being said about the need for British pensioners to retain S1 health cards, Ms Golding said. Although reciprocal health rights including for pensioners are understood to be an area of agreement, she said Brexit Minister David Davis only speaks about Ehics (used when travelling), whereas pensioners need more reassurance that S1s are not being forgotten about.

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