Campaigners for the rights of Britons abroad in the EU have been included in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list this year.
The co-chairs of British in Europe, Jane Golding and Fiona Godfrey, are being made OBEs (officer of the Order of the British Empire), BHOV founder Debbie Williams is being made an MBE (member of Order of the British Empire), and veteran campaigner Harry Shindler also becomes an OBE. Sue Wilson of independent group Bremain in Spain has also received an MBE as has Michael Harris from BiE group Eurocitizens (also in Spain).
Investiture ceremonies are not being held at present due to Covid restrictions, but the recipients will be invited to attend one in due course. Those on the ‘overseas and international’ list may choose to have a presentation ceremony at an embassy in the country where they live, as when Mr Shindler, from Italy, was made an MBE in 2014.
In a statement the government said 129 people were being recognised for ‘exceptional service to the UK overseas or internationally’, including those who have ‘given exceptional support to British nationals overseas during the pandemic’.
Ms Golding and Ms Godfrey, British lawyers living in Germany and Luxembourg respectively, said they understand that they were nominated for the awards by members of the British community in the EU.
The group they head was launched across Europe shortly after the Brexit referendum as a coalition bringing together various largely nationally-based grassroots groups that were being set up to give Britons in the EU a voice. In France the British Community Committee of France, a long-standing body which represents British associations, also joined. The other main BiE groups active in France are France Rights and Ecreu and BiE itself was formally registered as a French association in 2017.
BiE was consulted by the British government and parliament, and by EU institutions, during the events of the last few years and has played a dual role in informing and supporting Britons in the EU and lobbying for their rights.
Ms Golding told The Connexion: “I was surprised as, when the call came from the Embassy, I had been expecting to discuss 'votes for life'. I asked for some time to think but this came from the people whose rights we have been defending for nearly five years and is public recognition of BiE's and the wider groups’ work, so both Fiona and I were happy to accept on behalf of everyone.
“It was a shame that none of the3million [group for EU citizens in the UK] have been honoured for all they have done in the UK.”
In a statement the two also thanked their families for their support and credited their “amazing steering committee”, and “all the committed individuals in our country groups, who have gone far beyond the call of duty in giving so much of their own time and energy to help other British citizens who did not have a political voice during and post the UK Brexit referendum.”
Debbie Williams from Spain founded campaign group BHOV, which has members in several countries including many in France and was part of BiE until recently. She said it is not her personally, but “the cause” that matters, but “if I can use it to amplify our voices or raise the profile in a positive way for all migrants then that’s good”, adding that it would not have happened without the efforts of their whole team and “the massive network we have all played a part in setting up”.
She said: “This did not exist pre-referendum. I would rather have had no Brexit at all than any award. We have all sacrificed so much, all of us, lost so much, and my family are important and this is as much for them as anyone. So we are where we are and it is what it is.
“I’m proud of all of those who have been honoured I know them all. I could tell you stories of their commitment, passion, dedication, tears, exhaustion, frustration, anger, illness, confrontation, friendship, love – all these things and more.
“So yes, I’m glad they have the recognition, I know they will all do everything in their power to continue to push for what’s right.”
The awards were all described as being for services to British nationals in the EU, apart from Mr Shindler’s which was ‘for British nationals overseas’.
A longstanding campaigner for rights of Britons abroad and a Second World War veteran, Mr Shindler has most recently been known to Connexion readers for his work on the issue of ‘votes for life’, that is lifetime voting rights for Britons living abroad and an end to the 15-year limit for those moving overseas.
The UK government has recently announced a bill which is to end the limit.
His award comes just before Mr Shindler’s 100th birthday next month.
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