As the month of March 2017 advances, the UK government's aim of giving notice under article 50 of its intention to leave
the European Union is nearing realisation.
For the House of Commons Library's update and analysis of all the stages gone through so far, click here.
On the day notice is given to the EU, the clock will begin ticking in earnest, and unless there is a specific agreement to extend the period, or to make other arrangements, the UK will leave the EU exactly two years later, and become a "third country".
Again, unless agreements to the contrary are firmly in place by Brexit Day 2019, trade relationships between the UK and the EU27 will be transformed. Indeed, in the worst case (i.e. no agreement at all, the hardest of hard Brexits), many trade relationships between the UK and the EU27 will quite simply stop until the legalities of continuing have been sorted out.
At the same time, the British in France, indeed British nationals living anywhere in the EU27 member states and Switzerland – again, if no agreements to the contrary are securely in place – will lose their EU citizenship rights. This is extremely serious: EU citizenship gives us a bundle of indivisible rights which enable us to lead our lives with tranquillity in our country of adoption.
These rights include the right to reside and to remain where we are, the right to work and to have our UK professional qualifications recognised, and the right to have all periods of work in other EU countries aggregated so that we don't lose any pension entitlements.
Plus, for UK citizens who have made national insurance contributions and paid tax in the UK over their working lives, and who have retired, say, to France, but have not contributed to the French system, the right to receive healthcare services in France paid for under EU-wide agreements by the home country, in our case the UK.
Safeguarding these rights must be the number one priority for all of us. Which is why the British Community Committee of France (BCC) has joined forces with a number of other organisations representing UK nationals in EU countries where large numbers of UK nationals live, to try to influence the debate now going on in the UK – a debate which will soon begin also in Brussels and the other member states.
These organisations are:
Brits in Europe (Germany)
Expat Citizen Rights in the EU (ECREU) (France)
Fair Deal for Expats (France)
RIFT (Remain in France Together)
Bremain in Spain
Brexpats Hear our Voice (Belgium)
British in Italy
British Immigrants Living in Luxembourg (BRILL)
and, in the UK, the3million (representing the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK) and New Europeans.
The BCC takes part in weekly telephone conferences with these organisations, to plan and execute various actions with the aim of raising awareness of our concerns among UK and EU politicians. This led to the BCC being represented by our Chairman, Christopher Chantrey OBE, at oral evidence sessions at the House of Commons Select Committee on Exiting the EU, on 18th January 2017, and at the Commons Health Committee on 21st February.
Working together with these other representative groups also led to the joint publication of the Alternative White Paper on EU citizenship rights, and how losing those rights would upset the lives of millions of people. This was distributed to MPs and peers on the same day as the Government White Paper on exiting the EU, and provides extra information in particular on point 6 of the 12 points in the Government White Paper.