With this week marking one year until Britain officially leaves the EU, HuffPost is running a series of blogs answering big questions still left unanswered about our Brexit future. Today, ex-pat Margaret Hales asks how the government plans to make sure Britains living abroad get a good deal. Follow the series on #BrexitFuture
Every day something is uncovered about Brexit that makes me more worried - or more furious.
Brexit was driven by the right of the Conservative party, which has been anti-Europe for decades. I should know - I was very politically active in the 80s and 90s and received ‘a gong’ for it. Anti-immigration feeling was hyped up yet nowhere has the issue of people, real live breathing people (British or European) been part of the mantra of the Brexiteers.
Two million and more of what the media call ‘ex-pats’ - we prefer to call ourselves British citizens - have been no more than rubbish to be trampled on in the rush to take back authority, sovereignty and the rest of the soundbites. Only an enormous lobbying campaign by committed wonderful people has taken us to the situation where the media recognise that we even exist.
No-one mentions things like freedom of movement. This means that after Brexit, people who are trying to forward their careers and might want to move to another European country with their families including their children, cannot - simply because they are British. This means that those who have worked for European agencies will be stuck where they are, forbidden to be able to progress in their careers and unable to work cross-border.
This is inhuman.
We all moved to where we are now under the security of the EU and its laws, a comfortable safe rug that has now been pulled from under our feet, all because an actual minority of the public voted ‘leave’. So now I am fighting to preserve our rights. The rights of, for example, a British girl who has lived in Spain since she was two who, now 18, cannot vote in British elections, nor those in Spain, and has her options for her future severely limited and is being forced to make choices her parents could never have foreseen.
I descend from the Pankhurst family, and am related to Emmeline’s great-granddaughter, Helen. This year we celebrate Britain finally giving the vote to (some) women after Emmeline had put her considerable oratory talents behind recruitment for the ‘war to end all wars’. But in Spain, where I live, thousands of us could not vote in the Referendum. Is this democracy? Fairness? Emancipation? But no-one is concerned. We are out of sight, out of mind. Left.
‘We ditched Britain when we moved,’ some claim. Really? In truth, it’s us who have been abandoned by both the public and our own Government. No wonder so many elderly Brits here bury their heads in the sand and hope that the storm will blow over and all will be OK.
Even worse is the verbal bullying, distaste and even anger thrown at us if you say you are a ‘European’. My grandfathers and father served in the world wars. Their hero, Winston Churchill, strove to have a European family, united in peace. At school, learning about all things European was on our curriculum, and why not? Our son benefited from Erasmus funding, our children have bussed and backpacked around Europe exploring and growing in their understanding of our continent. We have been to university and then worked with people of every colour and religion. And we are the richer for it. But now we, and anyone who stands up and says they are pro-Europe, are bullied and derided.
But incredible things have happened. Thousands of British citizens living and working abroad have joined together and gained the ear of the European Parliament, MEPs, their Lordships and MPs, the Commission, the ECJ and many more to explain and fight for our rights post-Brexit. But Mr Davis and Mrs May have covered their ears and pretend we don’t exist. But we do have the support of many. After all, we are honest law-abiding families.
I feel heartbroken, devastated, numb about Brexit. Yet I feel determined to fight for what is right and comfortable in the knowledge that my new home is Spain. So how can the government make it rights for Britons living abroad? Here are some places to start:
Stop using the term ‘expat’
We are not just seeking comfort and the sun, we are British people citizens - most of us working - abroad.
Stop talking just about money and trade - talk about people
The negotiations first priority should be their own people - us. The Government should remember its citizens before they start taking about trade, Saudi Arabia and the USA.
Stop talking just about the Europeans in the UK. That’s only half the story: remember us too
We are British citizens and are the Government’s responsibility (look at the first page of your passport). We are the best ambassadors for Britain. Value us. Remember that we are here.
Mrs May and David Davis must meet us
British people living in the EU are represented by various bodies such as my group, ECREU.com (with more than 10,000 members) and our coalition of groups, British in Europe. We have repeatedly asked for a meeting with David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, or the Prime Minister herself - not even an acknowledgement! So, meet our representatives. If we are to be valued, then stop the grand speeches and talk to us.
Make life easier for those who want to return to Britain
Fund the NHS and social services so that pensioners can return to Britain certain that they will have help and security in their old age. After all, many could not vote in the referendum and did not know this was their future. Follow up the state’s responsibilities and make it possible and easier to be placed in a care home or register with a GP.
Lastly, tell us the truth
Embassies and consulates have been very upbeat in what they are reporting to British people in Europe. They have been very enthusiastic about issues which have not yet been decided. But we are grown-ups. We know the situation is difficult as negotiations go on, and we deserve to be told the truth. After all, we are the ones who will to have to judge what we do about our future after Brexit.
Margaret Hales MBE is a British ex-pat living in Spain, campaigner with Expat Citizen Rights in EU (ECREU)