‘We are fighting for your rights’

A French avocat from Bordeaux is seeking to prove that the Brexit referendum was illegal – and is asking for testimonies from Britons in France who could not vote due to the ‘15-year-rule’.

26 April 2017
By Oliver Rowland

This comes as MEPs battle to help Britons secure their rights, whether with ‘permanent’ residence cards, French nationality or ‘associate EU citizenship’.
Avocat Julien Fouchet, who has previously fought other cases on voting rights through the EU courts, told Connexion he needs to know how Britons excluded from voting believe Brexit will impact their lives and rights. Readers can get in touch if they wish to help bolster his case (see: cornille-pouyanne-avocats.fr).

Mr Fouchet, of Cornille-Pouyanne avocats, is tackling Brexit after a British person living in Gironde sought help. He wants to launch a case in the General Court of the EU as soon as the European Council has set out its Brexit objectives at a summit (due on April 29). That decision by the EU will allow him to set in motion a case arguing that Brexit is illegal because it affects Britons who had no say in it, he said.
That includes long-term expats as well as prisoners and residents in 12 British overseas territories.“I’m not necessarily taking a position for or against Brexit as such, but I think the referendum should be re-run because everyone should have a right to express themselves; it’s a human right and those who could not vote must feel very frustrated.”
He said the European Court of Human Rights previously ruled that the 15-year rule could perhaps be justified in general elections – though most EU states do not have such a rule - but he believes different laws would apply to the referendum, because of Brexit’s wide-ranging impact across the EU.

“I have legal arguments, based on equal treatment of people in the EU, but before being able to present them I need my case to be found acceptable.
“I’ll have two months to submit it and will have to show Brexit will have harmful consequences – for example that it may endanger people’s right to live and work in the countries where they live. The more cases I can present, the more chance there is. If I succeed I should then obtain a final judgement before the end of the Brexit negotiation period.”

In the meantime, efforts are under way to help mitigate Brexit’s effects, with many Britons applying for cartes de séjour “citoyen UE/EEE/Suisse” – Séjour permanent, or French nationality.
A hearing is scheduled at the European Parliament on May 11 at 15.00 at which problems being faced by EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will be addressed. It is organised by the MEP ‘EU citizens taskforce’, which was set up by the Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld.
Britons in the EU, including Connexion readers, have passed on concerns. They included readers refused full ‘permanent’ cards (which are stamped with a renewal date in 10-years and have the word ‘permanent’ on them) and given shorter-term ones, as well as some who were told they could not be issued cards while the Brexit negotiations are ongoing.

Ms in ‘t Veld, who said she will personally be speaking on the problems of Britons, said “being denied permanent residence cards ‘because of the Brexit negotiations’ is, of course, utter nonsense” and she will prepare a written parliamentary question on this. “We do not forget our British friends,” she said.

“You are EU citizens like anyone else and we will make your case during the hearing as well as in the context of other initiatives.” For updates you may send an email saying ‘yes’ to eucitizenstaskforce@gmail.com
Another MEP, Charles Goerens from Luxembourg told Connexion he will ‘fight tooth and nail’ to keep voluntary ‘associate EU citizenship’ for Britons on the agenda.
The European Parliament passed a resolution on its Brexit negotiating position for expat rights to be given full priority in the negotiations and for the EU to seek to mitigate Britons’ loss of EU citizenship rights. It said “many UK citizens have expressed strong opposition to losing the rights they currently enjoy”. It also said the parliament will build on the elements set out in it as the negotiations develop, for example by adopting further resolutions on specific matters.
Mr Goerens hopes the parliament will pass one specifically on his associate citizenship idea, so Britons who opt for it can maintain many EU rights through payment of an annual fee. The plan is supported by the EU parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, but Mr Goerens thinks it needs treaty change.

“I believe the British authorities at the highest level are well aware that there are a lot of British people who want to keep their EU citizenship. There is a specific debate to be had on this,” he said.
He added that it would need grassroots support, and he was pleased to see the march that took place in London in March. “It’s comforting to see thousands of British people showing their enthusiasm for Europe,” he said.

What now for talks?

With a UK general election set for June 8 EU chiefs say the Brexit negotiations will not get under way seriously until after that – leaving about 16 months to agree on an exit deal.
  They had been expected to start a month earlier, once the French elections were over in May.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said a deal must be ready by October 2018, allowing for ratification by the council, the European parliament and the UK before March 29, 2019.
At that date the UK is expected to leave the EU, whether or not a deal has been finalised, unless the EU27 agree unanimously to extend the negotiation period.

The ‘article 50’ deal will include the ‘exit bill’ and expat rights as well as a ‘framework for the future EU/UK relationship’, however a detailed trade deal is likely to take longer, so transitional arrangements are expected to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ change.
A study by The Economist said France was the EU country with the toughest negotiation stance. The magazine said France was especially opposed to Britain paying a low exit bill or ‘cherry-picking’ from the ‘EU freedoms’, such as having free trade without freedom of movement.

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