The children have gone back to school, the politicians are back in Westminster but the three million EU citizens living in Bristol and in the rest of the UK are still seeking answers following the June referendum. As often, Bristol is leading the way and French consular delegate Nicolas Hatton is calling all EU citizens to join him in a new initiative to make Brexit work for everyone it affects.
As an EU citizen living happily in the UK for the last two decades, I felt physically sick when the results of the referendum were announced on June 24. It was a shock to realise that a majority of people thought that their future would be better outside the European Union, despite the continuous prosperity the country had enjoyed because of joining the Union in 1973.
Then came the realisation that we’d lost something more than prosperity. The European project was based on the idea that we were all European citizens and could live wherever we like, travel freely and enjoy a freedom that went beyond all national borders. This was gone. Suddenly, we felt like foreigners in the very country we loved. The significant rise of hate crimes since the referendum hasn’t helped either.
In early July, I called an emergency meeting for EU citizens and we packed a hall in Henleaze with an audience of 200 anxious and worried residents. Many questions were asked about permanent residency rights and citizenship and we all came away wondering what the future would hold for us. Since then, none of these questions have been answered and the three million EU citizens living in the UK (along with the two million British citizens living in the rest of the EU) are in limbo.
The fact that EU citizens didn’t have a voice in the campaign and were not given voting rights exacerbated the feeling that we were helpless in a situation which affected us first and foremost. We needed support and guidance, and a way to make our minority heard, but we had nothing.
This is why a group of Bristol and South West-based EU citizens and British Europhiles created a new organisation: the3million. We aim to empower EU citizens and work towards answers to one simple question: how do we make Brexit work?
For another two years or so, the United Kingdom is still in the EU and all EU citizens in the UK or British citizens in the rest of the EU are protected by EU legislation on residency, rights to work, access to healthcare, freedom of movement etc. But this will cease when the UK leaves the EU. We are campaigning to preserve our rights so we can replace anxiety and fear with security and hope.
A lot of work needs to be done. EU citizens and Europhile Brits are invited to a public meeting on Sunday, September 11. Whether you want to get involved or have a question to ask the legal director of the Immigration Law Practitioner Association about residency rights or Nigel Costley from the TUC on EU workers’ rights, this meeting is for you.
For more information, visit www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-3-million-forum-for-eu-citizens-launch-event-tickets-26935664297
Read more: ‘A plea to my British friends’