Citizens’ rights ‘the great unvoiced issue’ in UK general election

Written by Martin Banks on 6 December 2019 in News
News

Campaigners say the lives of 3.4 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.6 million Britons in Europe have been “in limbo” since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Photo credit: New Europeans


Campaign group New Europeans has teamed up with #EmilyMatters, a group of actors who perform as the suffragettes Emily Davison, Millicent Fawcett and Mary Leigh, to launch “Courage Calls: A Citizens’ Rights Manifesto for #the5million.”

The manifesto contains five pledges which candidates in the UK election as well as MEPs are being asked to support in order to safeguard the rights and status of the 5 million citizens whose lives are said to have been disrupted by the ongoing uncertainty around their future since the UK voted to leave the EU.

The pledges, or “calls to courage” include guarantees of the rights of EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons abroad anchored in primary legislation; for the EU27, the settled status registration scheme to be superseded by a declaratory system so that no one loses rights if they fail to register, and for an EU Green Card so that EU27 citizens in the UK have a physical proof of status and Britons abroad retain the right to freedom of movement.


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The campaigners also want candidates to ensure that all current voting rights are maintained, including the right to stand in local elections and elections to the Scottish Parliament and London Authority.

They also insist that EU27 citizens with settled status are given dual citizenship so they can vote in general elections.

Although the UK government has said that EU citizens can remain in the UK post-Brexit, there are fears that the new rights granted under the settled status scheme could be easily removed if not anchored in a new act of Parliament (as opposed to being based on secondary regulations).

There are also fears that those who do not register in time could be subject to deportation orders as was the case with the Windrush scandal, where many long-term UK residents from the Caribbean who did not have a physical proof of status were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in some cases, wrongly deported from the UK.

“We have to make clear to the politicians who will be elected to the next UK Parliament and to the new MEPs in Brussels that we need our rights completely ring-fenced and guaranteed” Roger Casale, New Europeans

Many EU citizens have said they are being treated as second class citizens as they do not have a voice. That is why New Europeans and #Emilymatters say they are calling on the UK government to offer citizenship to EU citizens with settled status, which would also meant that EU citizens are able to vote in general elections.

The campaigners claim that Britons abroad also face increasing uncertainty post-Brexit and still stand to lose the right to free movement even if their residency status will be guaranteed by the Withdrawal Agreement.

Campaigners want to see the introduction of an EU Green Card, which would give Britons in the EU free movement rights and also provide a proof of status for EU citizens in the UK.

Writer and actor Kate Willoughby of #Emilymatters, who performs and campaigns as the suffragette Emily Davison, said: “There’s a really strong link between what the suffragettes were fighting for and what we are fighting for today. Everybody’s voice matters. Our votes are our voices at the ballot box. They are a precious heartbeat that allows our democracy to be fully representative. Without some votes, our democracy is not truly representative and it cannot thrive.”

Else Kvist, a Danish citizen in the UK, said, “I was denied my vote in the European elections. Like others I didn’t have a voice. That was the tipping point for me.  We also deserve a voice – even citizenship. I feel we deserve to be compensated for all we have been through the last three years.”

Roberta Gotti, an EU citizen in the UK and who performs as Millicent Fawcett as part of the #Emilymatters campaign group, said, “The suffragettes understood that an injustice to one is an injustice to all and so we are very excited about the collaboration with New Europeans.”

Speaking ahead of the launch, Roger Casale, founder and CEO of New Europeans and former Labour MP said, “This is a moment when the campaign for EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons abroad is really going to catch fire again.”

“Our votes are our voices at the ballot box. They are a precious heartbeat that allows our democracy to be fully representative. Without some votes, our democracy is not truly representative and it cannot thrive” Kate Willoughby of #Emilymatters

“We have to make clear to the politicians who will be elected to the next UK Parliament and to the new MEPs in Brussels that we need our rights completely ring-fenced and guaranteed.”

Dr Michaela Benson, research lead for the project BrExpats: freedom of movement, citizenship and Brexit in the lives of Britons resident in the EU, funded by UK in a Changing Europe, said, "Our research with Britons living in the EU27 has revealed their sense that nobody want to take responsibility for their lives and futures, and so they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.”

“It didn't have to be this way, but what is clear is they have fallen between the gaps in the reciprocal framing of negotiations over citizens' rights.”

The Brussels launch of CourageCalls: A Citizens’ Rights Manifesto for #the5million, takes place in Brussels on Tuesday (Human Rights Day).

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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