I’m sending you this message because I care about you, because I care about this country, and I think you care about me, too.
The general election is happening on 12th December.
My message is simple: many of those affected can’t vote in this election, but you can.
So much will change if the UK leaves the European Union. In the legal upheaval that will follow, we will see many changes to areas as diverse as trade and customs, worker rights, healthcare services, immigration, free movement, and more.
Despite this, many British citizens living in the EU have already lost their right to vote under the 15-year rule. But we, along with our counterparts in the UK, are among the most affected.
As a British citizen living in the EU, I will lose many of the protections currently assured to me by the UK’s membership of the EU – despite promises from both sides in the lead up to the referendum in 2016.
Free movement benefits British and EU citizens alike.
There are already 2 million British citizens living in Europe and 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. We have exercised our free movement rights to the fullest extent possible – by building a life in a different European country. This right is also exercised by many Brits and Europeans every day, as they travel across borders to work, study, visit and care for relatives, and simply go on holiday.
27 different sets of regulations for Brits living in each of the EU 27 countries.
The mutual failure of the UK and EU to ringfence citizen rights means British citizens living in the EU will have 27 different sets of regulations to contend with, affecting everything from the most obvious such as immigration and labour, but also serious matters such as access to the healthcare services, benefits, and pensions people rely on to survive.
The UK’s poor treatment of EU nationals living in the UK has given EU member states no motivation to be especially lenient to us. In the spirit of reciprocity, EU citizens in the UK – as the state behind the decision to leave the EU – need to be protected first. Only then can we hope for better protection in each of the EU 27.
In some countries, some of us have been able to acquire temporary or permanent residence or citizenship. But not all of us have been eligible, citizenship and residence permits can be very hard to acquire, and not all countries allow dual citizenship.
The Conservatives have not promised to protect our right to family life in the UK.
Even the absolute “luckiest” of us – the minority eligible and able to acquire citizenship of our host EU country – will be severely affected. By nature of being eligible, many of these people are settled with non-British family members.
The current government’s manifesto for this election has not anchored the right to family life or an equivalent commitment to continued free movement rights in its manifesto – but all major opposition parties have (Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens). And until any commitments are drawn into law, they are merely promises. We will otherwise default to existing non-EU immigration regulations, with high income thresholds and other restrictive requirements Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the other opposition parties have promised to abolish. Some already know right now they will never fulfil the financial requirements.
This is why we all anticipate problems should we later wish to return to the UK with partners and children, for example to look after sick or dying family members, post-2022.
Settled here, but no voice in the UK.
Despite numbering around 2 million, depending on estimates, our plight is usually forgotten in election campaigns. That’s why we need friends and family to think of us, to speak to others about what any changes to our status or that of our family members in the UK or the EU would mean for us, and to put pressure on parliamentary candidates and their respective parties.
Without adequate efforts to protect our rights, British citizens abroad and EU citizens alike face terrible uncertainty going forward, despite us being in every way settled where we live right now. We are people with jobs, students, parents, partners, co-workers, neighbours, and friends. We are a vital part of the communities we have lived in for years, and in many cases, decades.
We don’t want to be uprooted, nor cut off and unable to ever return.
Not all Brits in Europe have a voice in this election, but you do.
Please consider this plea when you make your choice.
Then remember to get out and vote on 12th December.
I can’t and won’t tell you how to vote. But I will ask that you think of me and the importance of exercising your right to vote when so many people who will be drastically affected by the actions of the next Parliament have no voice at all.
PS: If you were especially moved by this message, you can also ask your local candidates to sign the3million’s pledge to support the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit. In the spirit of reciprocity, this will also help me and fellow Brits in Europe, too: https://www.the3million.org.uk/thepledge. Thank you.Photo by Alexander Dummer
Forward Democracy is a non-partisan organisation. We have published this letter by a collection of anonymous authors to allow them to exercise their freedom of expression and contribute to democratic debate.