Brexit in Focus: The Rights of Citizens after Brexit
27 March 2018, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
House of Commons, Committee Room 12
On Tuesday 27 March 2018, the International Centre for Relations & Diplomacy (ICRD) organised a session at the House of Commons, Committee Room 12 discussing the rights of citizens after Brexit.
The session was chaired by Liberal Democrats spokesperson for Exiting the European Union and International Trade Tom Brake MP. The discussion was kicked off by ICRD’s Director Sameh Habeeb who was joined by the3million campaigner Dimitri Scarlato; the Co-Founder of SCM Direct Gina Miller, also known for leading the legal fight for a vote in Parliament on whether the Government should have triggered the process to leave the EU; and investigative journalist and Director of Statewatch Tony Bunyon.
Tom Brake MP placed into context the added urgency of how important it was to look at the rights of citizens. Just returning from a debate on some of the allegations against two of the campaign organisations involved in the EU referendum – Vote Leave and BeLeave – he said that whether they broke the law in the EU Referendum is also a question of human rights of EU citizens as well as UK citizens.
When we’re looking at human rights, clearly I’d argue that having a free and fair election where all of the partiers who are campaigning in that election have observed the law in the referendum in the United Kingdom.
Brake also pointed out that one of the biggest challenges facing the withdrawal bill is with regards to the EU charter of fundamental rights. Despite arguments that say the rights are already present in other places, Brake said that having them contained in one document makes the process easier in establishing what the rights are and then enforcing them.
Brake said the issue of citizenship is also fundamental here.
Providing insight on how the process may go through Parliament he said:
…the EU bill is something that is being considered in the Lords. And they’re about to have their… final day on it before it comes back after the Easter recess and they’re confident they will defeat the government on 10 or more amendments… I don’t know for a fact but I’d be very surprised if the charter of fundamental rights isn’t one of the issues on which the Lords will coalesce and defeat the government.
This may then mean that MPs in the Commons will support other members to ensure the charter remains in place.
The ICRD and the Current Debate on Citizens’ Rights
Sameh Habeeb explained that the ICRD are organising a series of workshops and seminars starting with Brexit. Habeeb continued the discussion by laying out why ICRD places urgency on the issue. He said that Brexit is one of the most pressing issues for both EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in Europe in particular due to the uncertainty of what their situation and status will be after Brexit.
The main thing that I want to touch on is the uncertainty that’s impacting people, whether politically, whether economically and even on the human rights of people.
While Phase I on negotiations has been encapsulated in Treaty form this doesn’t necessarily mean anything is a done deal. Habeeb said that while Brexit is a reflection of the will of the people there have been many scandals that have hit ordinary citizens such as the Home Office sending out over a thousand erroneous deportation letters.
Campaigning for Citizens’ Rights
Dimitri Scarlato from The 3 Million campaign, an Italian citizen living in the UK, provided a picture of the reality for EU citizens. He described how many of them had become involved in the lobbying process, whether they had previous experience or had hailed from different sectors, which they are doing to try and safeguard their own rights.
Scarlato noted that there was a noticeable difference when it came to trying to deal with the EU and trying to deal with the UK governmental system. Despite numerous requests the organisation had not managed to sit in front of Prime Minister Theresa May. Conversely many of his colleagues had managed to meet with Michel Barnier [European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union] and with all the members of the Brexit Steering Group.
Scarlato said that what they essentially want is the same rights they have now going forward, and as promised.
It’s been a long journey from the beginning…. after Article 50 was triggered, one year ago, the European Union put on the table that it was really fair to keep the same rights for all EU citizens including British expats.
There are some results the campaigners can point to that they’ve been responsible for. For instance, if you are an EU citizen, you have the right to reunification at zero cost although they had quite a fight to achieve this concession. However, this right only applies if you marry by 29 March 2019. This is a current grievance the campaign has with the agreement.
Overall, Scarlato said that the promise that all EU citizens will be able to live as if nothing has changed is not true. They are therefore, pushing the European Parliament to spell out all of the detail. Other issues of concern involved the potential error rate which he believes is around 10%. If there are 10% refusals, that could affect 360,000 – 60,000 of those could be from the Italian community alone, which stands as 600,000 strong in the UK. This means 60,000 people could potentially be looking for resolution from one single embassy, which could spell crisis. There are also concerns with the streamlined digital application, which he says may not be able to deal with more complex cases or vulnerable cases. Everyone will need to register but those who have been in the country 30 or 40 years may question why they have to.
In 2016 the Home Office sent all these letters to European citizens, denying their [permanent residency] and telling them they have to leave the country. Obviously lots of embassies complained. But we still need to make sure these people are being safeguarded.
Scarlato then said that it was imperative that an independent body was available for dispute resolution particularly once EU citizens had been granted a “settled status”. The independent body should be able to resolve disputes should a case be refused.
Scarlato made reference to the Data Protection Bill that will prevent EU citizens from accessing their data.
On a final note Scarlato noted that there was an element of scaremongering by saying that no deal is better than a bad deal.
What if there is no deal, who is going to safeguard our rights. That’s why we’re pushing for citizens’ rights to be ring-fenced. The EU argument is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So what if at some point we don’t agree on the final agreement.
Diluting Democracy, Sovereignty and Devolved Powers through the Brexit Backdoor
Gina Miller stepped in and reiterated that the way EU citizens in the UK as well British Expats in other EU countries had been treated was appalling. As well as uncertainty there were a number of inhumane actions taking place such as threats of deportations without insurance. She also said that she had heard cases where mothers were told that as stay-at-home mums they are considered unskilled workers while their children have the right to stay.
Miller went on to discuss where the country currently was and how it could move forward. She said that the transition deal was mere “trickery” and that it was only a transition until October 2018, providing around seven months to determine the future direction of the country. This is because the remaining time will be required for the legal process.
This government which has taken 12 months to agree the easy stuff is going to have seven months to agree the really difficult stuff.
Miller said that from her experience in Brussels there were several main concerns across sectors and countries. Firstly, that there has not been any sector-by-sector detail. Secondly, there is no feasible resolution on Northern Ireland. Thirdly, many are concerned with standards i.e. would companies be required to provide for two different standards, one for the UK and one for the EU. Finally, companies had concerns over how the supply chain would work.
Miller said that there was currently no other deal in existence that the UK could replicate with the EU and benefit. The Norway Denmark border solution, European Free Trade Agreement and Canada style trade deal were all in a appropriate.
This led onto the question of what could be done. Miller said there were only two things left to do in the time that was left. One was to continue to engage MPs by writing to them and attending their surgeries to insist they disclose the plan going forward and how it would be implemented in the remaining time with appropriate detail.
The other option was for a final people’s vote on what the future should look like.
… the will of the people started this journey when they didn’t really know what the landscape of the future would look like. The will of the people should decide where it ends. And whatever that decision, everyone will have to respect it so we can get on with being Britain again.
On a final point Miller stated that trade deals take years to implement and that so-called unicorn deals were not likely to work for Britain.
25 Years of Security and Justice in the EU, from Maastricht to Today
Tony Bunyon’s contribution focused on the wider context of security and justice in the EU. As he points out that despite voting for remain himself, one must be highly critical of the Union.
It’s hard to vote for a European Union that’s lost its way. And it has lost its way when it comes to fundamental rights. Each day we get more intrusive.
Bunyon noted that ‘Europe’s’ state-building started with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. A council of ministers was then formed for all the Euro State countries and the council has become a major player. Rule-making in the EU has since taken place in secretive form with no public presence and no documents unless there are leaks.
He said that the EU has also failed to adequately tackle nationalism, racism and fascism of member states as well as attacks on democracy. It is therefore not living up to its own declaration of values.
Some examples stated by Bunyon included that of the emergence of the surveillance state after 9/11 and the management of migration. In the latter example, Bunyon said that partnership frameworks between Europe and Africa have in effect advised countries they must agree to readmissions and returns or else there will be consequences such as losing aid, trade and education. Some countries are encouraged to use their historical connections to push this position.
If you think about it, what we’re doing is taking a neo-colonial relationship and brushing it under the carpet to cave to Western domination and exploitation by European nations.
Bunyon also notes that EU citizens may be lulled into a false sense of protection of their privacy. In many instances recording of data, including biometric data like fingerprinting, is imposed on refugees and migrants, those who have been otherised through the refugee crisis.
Bunyon finally suggests that the derogation of rights that we’re seeing in Britain is true across Europe. Neoliberalism has thus had fairly similar impacts across the board.
I’ve always believed that civil liberties and rights cannot be separated from a wider political future. Democracy doesn’t belong to two parties, democracy belongs to the people. You need a democratic culture, diversity respect for cultures, sense of history and above all an underlying humanity… ‘Democracy must not be confused with capitalism’. The former is a political system, the latter is an economic system. Although many capitalist systems are a democracy, capitalism can exist without democracy…. What happens in justice and home affairs can’t be taken without the wider context.
An open discussion took place with all attendees. There are several points that arose:
- Remain activism is still ongoing and is largely uncovered by the media.
- There has been a fair amount of damage that has already been caused by Brexit,
in particular through the “wasting of talent”. EU citizens living in the UK have already started to leave not only because of the uncertainty but also because the general message felt by Brexit was an ‘unwelcoming’ one.
- Other remain activists would like to see organisations that are representing EU citizens and EU British expats simplify their message as the priority was to ensure that three million plus people are registered.
- Local elections will take place on 3 May and the fact that this represents an opportunity for people to get their voice heard should be taken up. EU citizens in the UK should register to vote if they have been living in the UK for the designated amount of time.
- There was a continuing point on facts. The main thing was that there are plenty of reports discussing the impact of Brexit that isn’t being reported on and now people should be doing more work to try and uncover it. One example is the impact on consumerism and consumption.
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