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Expats demand May fights for their right to free movement after Brexit

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Prime Minister Theresa May arriving in Brussels for Brexit talks in March (Getty)

British citizens living in the EU are calling on the Prime Minister to put their right to live and work across the continent at the heart of Brexit talks.

There are currently 1.24 million British nationals living in the 27 other EU member states.

Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement, they will be able to remain in their current host country but will lose their right to freedom of movement.

Representatives of the British in Europe group are lobbying political leaders in Brussels and London this week in a bid to change the situation.

The group’s Berlin-based chair, Jane Golding, says the draft Brexit deal “doesn’t work for working people or their families” and challenged Theresa May to reopen talks on the issue.

“To date we have seen more energy spent on discussing the post-Brexit movement rights of jam than we have of people,” she said. “This needs to change.”

Golding raised the issue with EU Brexit negotiators and MEPs during a visit to Brussels on Monday and is giving evidence to the Commons Brexit committee in London on Wednesday.

Speaking to Yahoo in Brussels, Golding said: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

“So, whatever anyone says about it all being decided, as long as the agreement is not yet finalised, changes can be made and we’re not giving up the fight.”

In response, both the EU and UK government said free movement would be discussed further in forthcoming talks over the future relationship.

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“The issue of onward movement rights for UK citizens in the EU has not been forgotten and we will raise this in the next phase of negotiations,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU.

“The UK will seek to reach a final deal that is in the mutual interest of citizens living across the continent.”

The current arrangements put the European Commission on a collision course with the European Parliament, which will have the final say on the Brexit deal.

Continued free movement for UK citizens currently living in the EU was a red line in a resolution passed by Euro MPs in March.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier present the draft Withdrawal Agreement, which does not currently include continued freedom of movement (Getty)

Green MEP Jean Lambert said the Parliament wants “better protection for citizens directly affected by Brexit.”

“This chapter must not be closed until all issues are solved,” she added.

“Second-best is not good enough for people whose lives have been thrown in to turmoil by a vote that excluded them.”

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Without a change, any UK citizen who left their host EU country for longer than five years would lose their rights to live and work there.

British in Europe deputy chair Fiona Godfrey, who lives in Luxembourg, said that could cause chaos for families – including her own.

“My son is currently looking at doing a 5-year course in Scotland, so it would be really touch and go as to whether he would be entitled to come back.

“That’s why freedom of movement is still the Holy Grail for us.”

Green MEP for London Jean Lambert (European Parliament)

The right to vote is also being raised by the group. Anyone living abroad for more than 15 years loses their right to vote in the UK.

Until now, UK nationals could at least vote in the local elections of their host country, but that will not be the case after Brexit in a number of countries.

That will leave thousands facing the choice of applying for citizenship of their host country (which in some cases will require them to renounce their British citizenship) or risk being completely disenfranchised.

British in Europe is calling on the Conservatives to deliver their 2015 manifesto pledge to give expats the life long right to vote in UK elections.

Clarity from the EU over registration of UK nationals after Brexit and more UK Foreign Office staff  to deal with the flood of consular issues anticipated are among other key demands.

Currently there are five Foreign Office officials providing support to UK citizens in the EU, which the group says will be “inadequate” after Brexit.

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