On Friday 29 August the BiE steering group met at the UNISON building in London, the first time we have all been physically together in one place for over a year. Our first priority was to review how, and indeed whether, we can continue to operate going forward, particularly from January 2020 onwards. The current steering committee members have contributed their professional skills on a voluntary basis for almost three years now. This has involved many hours and personal and pecuniary sacrifices that will not be sustainable for much longer.
At our one-day meeting we made a good start to the reappraisal of our future. Our plan is to continue full steam ahead with advocacy over the next three or four months, at the same time as we thrash out options for the coalition’s future. There are a series of variables like funding and whether or not there is another extension. For example, if Brexit does go ahead on Halloween, our role as a campaigning group for citizens’ rights would morph towards monitoring the implementation of national contingency plans or, in a better scenario, the citizens’ rights section of a Withdrawal Agreement.
Throughout the autumn BiE and the3million will continue to press for the ring-fencing of citizens’ rights. We will point out in Brussels, London and in member states that Britons in Europe face a huge loss of rights as we transition from EU citizenship to third-country-national status, with little scope for oversight from the European Commission. We will explain how, with No Deal, we will be under twenty-seven different legal systems and contingency plans, many of which are sketchy or depend on reciprocity from the UK. In parallel, we will continue lobbying HMG for lifelong pension uprating, for home university fees, for a long-term commitment to support S1 healthcare and social security coordination and for the right of Britons to return to the UK with their family members.
For all of us this a gruelling and distressing process. Even at this late stage, we are being used as bargaining chips and it feels as if we are being forgotten by our own government and penalised by the EU for the sins of some of our country’s politicians. However, for the moment at least, our only alternative is to carry on fighting.
So, let’s brace ourselves for another spell on the rollercoaster and do what we can. Remember that we are a team of grassroots volunteers and, in order to carry on defending your rights, we need your support more than ever.