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BREXIT

Battling Brexit: How a group of Brits in Europe took on the fight for citizens’ rights

As most Britons living in Europe were still reeling from the shock of the 2016 Brexit referendum, a small number of individuals and groups began to come together realising they faced a huge fight to protect rights that had always been taken for granted. This is their story.

Battling Brexit: How a group of Brits in Europe took on the fight for citizens' rights
British in Italy campaigners in Florence before British PM Theresa May gave a speech in September 2017.

To find out how this movement began from another campaign to secure the vote for millions of disenfranchised Brits abroad, read Part One of this story. Part Three: January 11th.

Ask most British nationals living abroad where they were that night Britain voted to leave the EU and they can remember.

Some watched in tears in their living rooms, others were left to console themselves in the waiting room of an airport. 

Most Brits living in the EU watched the coverage in horror as they realised the shock Brexit referendum result would change their lives forever. And what made it worse for many of them was that they had not even been allowed to vote.

“On the night of the referendum a group of friends came to my house and watched the results come in,” Fiona Godfrey, co-founder and co-chair of citizens’ rights umbrella group British in Europe, tells The Local.

“People were sitting on my living room floor crying,” she adds.

Fiona Godfrey, co-chair of British in Europe. Photo: Fiona Godfrey. 

The day after the vote, UK nationals across Europe – expert estimates for the size of the community vary from 1.2 million to 3.6 million – found themselves facing a future full of uncertainty and anxiety.

They had opted to build a life in Europe based on the rights EU treaties afforded them. With Britain voting to leave the Union and to renegotiate all aspects of its relationship with the 27-country bloc, the futures of UK nationals in Europe and EU nationals in the UK were suddenly shrouded in doubt.

The 1.2 million Brits in Europe feared – and still have reason to given the threat of a no-deal Brexit – losing access to jobs, family reunification rights, healthcare, education, social services – their lives as they know them. The same is true for at least 3 million EU nationals living in the UK. 

A map with the official number of UK nationals registered (as of January 2018) as living in each EU27 country. Image: The Local.

But some were not prepared to take it lying down.

As the mourning after the referendum continued, ordinary citizens across Europe began to morph into the largest British citizenship rights campaign for decades. At first, nobody knew they were part of something bigger than their own anger.

Watershed moments

“The feeling of rage drove us to do something,” recalls Jeremy Morgan, a British lawyer who is based in central Italy.

He and his partner Delia Dumaresq recall “being in tears at 6 am at Stansted Airport” the day after the referendum.

“It came out of the strength of feeling, of people who have exercised their rights,” he said.

Morgan and Dumaresq began to brainstorm with other Brits in Italy about what they could do. Journalist Patricia Clough and financial advisor Gareth Horsfall helped trace a web through the British community in Italy. The couple were also put in touch with journalist Giles Tremlett, who was active on the campaign for dual citizenship in Spain.

Delia Dumaresq (far left) and Jeremy Morgan (second from left) address a meeting on citizenship rights on November 20th, 2018, in Venice. Photo: British in Italy. 

In Berlin, France and Luxembourg, other groups of UK nationals had began organising themselves and creating networks.

Fiona Godfrey, 53, a British global health campaigner in Luxembourg, and a group of friends had their lightbulb moment soon after the referendum. “We went for a drink and said we must do something,” recalls Godfrey. Within 24 hours of setting up a Facebook group in July 2016, nearly 10 per cent of the country’s 6,000 Brits had joined.

Across Europe, Brits had experienced Brexit as a similar watershed moment. In Berlin, a group of campaigners who had worked on the Votes for Life campaign began to realise they had to shift the focus to citizenship rights.

British in Germany was born out of “the realisation that British citizens would have to fight for maintaining their citizenship rights in the EU,” recalls Daniel Tetlow, a British media professional in Berlin and a founder of British in Germany together with Jane Golding.

“Being heard and recognised as a serious constituency of Brits,” was the objective.

Golding, a British lawyer based in Berlin who became co-chair of the umbrella group British in Europe said: “We held a series of events on how the referendum could impact people. A lot of people’s lives were going to be affected,” she recalls.

“People asked: What is going to happen to us? Will you be there for us? Will you be there to protect our rights after the referendum?”

READ ALSO: How a group of Brits took up a struggle for millions of their co-citizens: Part One

 (Jane Golding, fourth from the right and Kalba Meadows to her right deliver a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo British in Europe)

In France, meanwhile, UK nationals also independently established groups to voice their concerns about how their lives would be affected – groups such as ECREU and Remain in France Together (RIFT).

RIFT, run by former social worker Kalba Meadows, now counts more than 11,000 members. “As we approached 2017 it was becoming apparent that we’d need to start standing up for ourselves,” Meadows, who moved to Ariége in France over a decade ago, tells The Local. 

Such fighting talk could be heard from Brits across Europe after the referendum. Groups like New Europeans were joining the battle.

The NGO, set up in 2013 by the former Labour MP for Wimbledon Roger Casale, had done a lot of work on raising awareness of what could happen to the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in Europe even long before the referendum.

“When we set up in 2013 and we used to tell people about how a referendum could affect EU citizens' rights and the rights of Brits in Europe, people used to say: What are you talking about?” Casale tells The Local. 

Casale's New Europeans, an organisation based in London and Brussels with 1,200 members who each pay €30 per year, helped bring together some of the key figures who went on to lead British in Europe and the3Million, which represents EU nationals living in the UK.

“I introduced Nicolas Hatton (chair of the3million) to Jane Golding (co-chair of British in Europe),” Casale recalls, adding that New Europeans provided a platform, via their webinars, for both activists to voice their early concerns and arguments about citizens' rights.

Such interventions from existing organisations were clearly key. But with Brexit, perhaps for the first time, thousands of UK nationals living in Europe were driven to a campaign to resist the threat to their European identity independently of any core leadership. 

“Brexit had wiped me out emotionally,” Laura Shields, a media trainer based in Brussels, told The Local. “I thought: I can either sit here and complain or I can go and do something.” Owner of a her own company and the mother of a five-year-old, Shields says she identifies herself as “a European.” 

A chance encounter led to her joining the movement. 

British in Europe spokeswoman Laura Shields, owner of media training company Red Thread in Brussels. Photo: Red Thread. 

A former chair of Liberal Democrats in the EU, Shields had met Jane Golding at an event in Brussels in 2017. 

“British in Europe didn’t have a press person, they were mainly all legal people,” she recalls. “We did some stuff on the Withdrawal Agreement. After that I just hung around,” says Shields, who has been British in Europe’s spokesperson ever since.

Conference call dates were pencilled in and Facebook groups conceived. Wynne Edwards of Fair Deal for Expats played a vital role by setting up the first conference calls that helped bring the different groups together to talk, with Jane Golding presiding as chair and moderator by January 2017.  This is how networks in each country became aware of their counterpart cells across the EU. 

Fears of ending up as third country nationals – an outcome that appears increasingly possible given the threat of a no-deal Brexit – was what drove campaigners on in the early days.

Chance meetings soon helped turn the concerns of a handful of worried Brits into a pan-European movement. For Jeremy Morgan and Delia Dumaresq, who founded British in Italy, an encounter at a bookstore in London helped them get audiences with politicians back home in Italy.

“We went along to the Italian Bookstore and were put in touch with the Democratic Party (PD) organiser in London, Roberto Stasi. He in turn put us in touch with other Democratic Party (PD) politicians in Italy,” recalls Morgan, who together with Jane Golding, helped shape British in Europe’s core legal texts.

That meeting at the bookstore led to other meetings with politicians in Italy, as well as an invite to give evidence before a joint senatorial committee.

Morgan had been exposed to campaigning through his work establishing law centres in the UK; Dumaresq had been involved in women’s rights campaigns in the 1970s, while Fiona Godfrey is a professional lobbyist.

Shields, Golding, and Roger Boaden – founder of ECREU, a British citizens in France group – had each worked for the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives respectively. The issue of rights for families, communities and children cuts beyond party allegiances. 

While the first living cells of the post-referendum movement were formed as early as the day after the vote, it was a hearing in the UK’s Parliament that galvanised the groups and brought many of them face-to-face for the first time.

(Jane Golding speaks to fellow campaigners at a march calling for a People's Vote. Photo: BiE.)

A movement is born

“January 2017 was the start of the organisation as it is now,” recalls Jane Golding of British in Europe.

Golding had been invited to give evidence to the Exiting the European Union Select Committee at a hearing at the British parliament in London on how Brexit would affect UK nationals living in Europe.

“We felt we needed to have a representative group of people,” recalls Golding. Morgan and Golding met around Christmas 2016 and began to shape “the flagship paper which put out what we were seeing.”

Four people were selected to give evidence and were coached by the legal wisdom of Morgan and Golding.

“Our main concern is the loss of EU citizenship and the rights devolving from it: the right to remain, healthcare arrangements under the EU social security agreements, and pension entitlements and payments,” Christopher Chantrey, a British resident in France and one of the selected four told the House of Commons select committee.

Golding says the hearing forced the groups to identify what they were concerned about: “A bundle of interlinked rights that people had for life and were irrevocable. People had the legitimate expectation that they were for life,” states Golding.

Those rights include the right to freedom of movement, recognition of qualifications, the lifelong right to remain and many more. 

READ ALSO: Quiz: How well do you know Brexit?

The select committee hearing brought together the issues of UK nationals in Europe and those of EU nationals in the UK, with British in Europe and the3million having since joined forces to campaign for their rights in Westminster, Brussels and EU-wide.

“The hearing was quintessential in us working together and uniting,” recalls Golding, not only of the partnership with the3million, but for British in Europe itself as an organization. Around 10 UK nationals who had established groups in one country came together under the umbrella of British in Europe.

In the last two years, British in Europe and its offshoot movements have nevertheless gone from strength to strength, securing meetings with, as well as the support of, top negotiators, political figures and foreign offices across the EU.

Kalba Meadows has been a key part of that work.

Meadows, one of the founders of Remain in France Together (RIFT), had been an active campaigner in the UK but left all that behind for a quiet life in the French Pyrenees.

Brexit brought Meadows back into the campaigning landscape. “I didn’t need much excuse to reawaken my inner campaigner,” she says.

But uniting under British in Europe was nevertheless transformational. 

“I went from being a ‘lone voice’ in the wilds of rural France to part of a group of citizens’ rights campaigners right across the EU27,” says Meadows.

If Brits had failed to take an interest in the referendum before the vote, those living in Europe have tried to compensate since. Brexit has even made campaigners of British expats who had previously taken little interest in politics. 

“I had been blissfully ignorant of UK politics in particular, but I learnt fast,” Sue Wilson, who founded the citizens campaign group Bremain in Spain in late 2016, told The Local.

Wilson says it took her three weeks just to get over the “shock,anger, sadness and depression caused by the result of the referendum.” Three months later Bremain in Spain, a group which now counts thousands of Brits in Spain as members, was born.

Sue Wilson, 65, a resident of Alcossebre, Castellon Province in the Valencian Community and founder of Bremain in Spain. Photo: Susan Wilson. 

Since then, Wilson says she has worked 70 hours a week.

She says her objective is “to protect the rights of British citizens in the EU.

“She adds that there is only one way to really do that: stop Brexit completely.

With just over 80 days until Britain will officially no longer be a member of the EU, stopping Brexit at this stage seems like wishful thinking, unless something extraordinary happens in parliament and a second referendum or general election is called. 

But whatever happens over the next few weeks the campaigning will likely go on.

The fact that it is personal has helped. “We are the people affected as well as the people campaigning,” says Jane Golding.

But the campaign is ultimately about more than nationality. “The outrage is over the deprivation of rights both sides of the channel,” says British in Italy’s Jeremy Morgan.

To find out how this story concludes and what British in Europe have achieved in the two years since the organisation's inception, make sure you read Part Three in our newsletter on January 11th. 

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READ MORE: How Brexit is fuelling stress and anxiety for vulnerable Brits in Europe 

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  1. The people were asked to stay or exit, they chose to exit, anything else is undemocratic and a slap in the face of people who voted to exit the EU.

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For members

DANISH CITIZENSHIP

How to apply for citizenship in Denmark

We provide an explanation of applying for citizenship in Denmark, including an overview of the rules, a guide to the application process and useful extra information.

How to apply for citizenship in Denmark
Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish citizenship can only be granted to foreign nationals via legal nationalisation: your application must actually be approved by a parliamentary majority. Accepted applications are normally processed in parliament twice yearly, in April and in October. 

You need to fulfil the conditions for Danish citizenship up until the April or October when your application will be processed and the application needs to be submitted at least two to three months before April or October. 

To be granted citizenship, you must apply to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration for the eye-watering fee of 4,000 kroner (2022). 

Citizenship entitles you to a Danish passport and gives you the right to vote in parliamentary elections, as well as providing a permanent basis for residency in the country.

Danish requirements for citizenship are some of the toughest in the world. In April 2021, the Social Democratic government linked up with conservative parties Liberal (Venstre), the Conservatives and Liberal Alliance on a tighter new agreement around citizenship rights.

You must meet a number of closely-defined criteria and requirements in order to be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation. These fall into six broad categories, all of which will be set out in further detail below.

  • Give a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to Denmark
  • Fulfil prior residency criteria
  • Be free of debt to the public sector and be financially self-sufficient
  • Have no criminal convictions
  • Hold a full-time job or been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years. 
  • Meet criteria for Danish language skills 
  • Pass a citizenship test and demonstrate knowledge of Danish society and values

For children, stateless people born in Denmark, people whose previous Danish citizenships have lapsed and citizens of the Nordic countries, special rules apply. These will not be addressed in this article.

Declaration of allegiance and loyalty to Denmark

It is a condition for acquiring Danish citizenship by naturalisation that you declare allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and to Danish society. You must also declare that you will obey Denmark’s laws, including the constitution, and respect the fundamental values and legal principles of Danish democracy.

How do I do this, you might ask? The answer is, digitally. You sign the declaration online as you file your application on the Borger.dk website. You also reiterate the declaration when you attend the ceremony which confirms your citizenship, once you have been accepted for it.

Prior residency criteria

At the time of your application, you must already have a permit for permanent residency in Denmark for a minimum of two years, and have lived in Denmark for a specified number of years (see below).

People recognised as refugees, equated with refugees, or stateless, need a one year minimum permit for permanent residency.

Being a resident in Denmark means that you live permanently in the country and are registered at a Danish address (where you live) on the national civil registry (Det Centrale Personregister, CPR).

Certain applicants are exempt from one or both of the above conditions, for example Nordic citizens; former Danish citizens; people of Danish descent; members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig in Germany; applicants who are residing abroad due to the Danish spouse’s work for Danish interests; and applicants who were born between 1961 and 1978 to a Danish mother and who could have acquired Danish citizenship if their mother had applied for it between 1979 and 1981; and children who apply for citizenship without their parents. You can read more about this here.

READ ALSO:

Permanent residency is granted via a number of different routes, depending on the way in which you originally made Denmark your home.

EU free movement

If you are a citizen of an EU country or the family member of an EU citizen, you can be granted permanent residency in Denmark after five years’ legal residency in the country under EU free movement rules. For this, you must make an appointment to hand in your application in person to the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI). SIRI has branch offices in Copenhagen, Odense, Aalborg, Aarhus and Aabenraa.

READ ALSO:

Non-EU citizens

If you are not a citizen of an EU country, the path to permanent residency, and thereby citizenship, is longer. To qualify for a permanent residency permit (permanent opholdstilladelse), you must have been legally resident in the country under a limited residency permit (tidsbegrænset opholdstilladelse) for at least eight years (in some cases four years, and exceptions can also apply, for example for persons aged 18 or 19 and people with Danish ancestry).

There are also a number of stringent requirements related to criminal convictions, debt to the state and self-sufficiency, employment history and language skills. These will not be covered here, since they are superseded by the requirements for citizenship itself, but you can find more detail on permanent residency in the articles linked below.

READ ALSO: 

Length of stay

Normally, you must have lived in Denmark for nine consecutive years (without living elsewhere for more than three months) in order to qualify for citizenship. This period is reduced in some cases: for refugees it becomes eight years, citizens of Nordic countries need a two-year stay and people married to Danes qualify after 6-8 years, depending on the length of the marriage.

Other exceptions are made for those who have taken a significant portion of their education in Denmark, who may qualify after five years. If you moved to Denmark before your 15th birthday, you can become nationalised after you turn 18.

In certain cases, exemptions from residency duration requirements are made, for example if a Danish spouse has worked abroad or due to the applicant being stationed abroad while working for a Danish employer.

Public debt

Overdue repayments to the state, in the form of repayable social welfare payments, child support, excess housing support (boligstøtte), payment for daycare, police fines, municipal loans for paying deposits on rental housing, and unpaid taxes and fees can all result in rejection of a citizenship application.

Self-sufficiency

You are required to prove that you can provide for yourself. That means, for example, documenting that you have not received state social welfare support such as the basic unemployment support, kontanthjælp, or the welfare benefits provided to those granted refugee statues (integrationsydelsen), within the last two years.

Furthermore, you may not have received benefits of this type for more than a total period of four months within the last five years.

Other types of state benefit, such as the state student grant (statens uddannelsesstøtte, SU) and state pensions do not exclude you from qualifying for citizenship.

Unemployment insurance, parental leave and sick leave payouts (dagpenge) received over a total period of over four months will be added to the two years in which you must document that you were not supported by the state. Therefore, these types of benefit (which are partially self-funded) do not preclude you from applying for citizenship, and you can be in receipt of them at the time you apply.

Criminal convictions

From April 2021, a new government agreement meant that anyone who has received a criminal sentence, either conditional or unconditional, will never be able to become a Danish citizen. 

Previous rules allowed people with unconditional sentences of up to one year to be granted citizenship following a suspension period.

Milder punishments such as fines can result in a suspension from applying for a period of at least four and a half years. If someone has been penalised several times, the waiting period is extended.

You must declare while applying for citizenship whether you have committed a crime. If authorities later find (a two-year check is carried out) that you have not disclosed any criminal activities, your citizenship can be revoked.

If a crime was committed abroad, the case will be discussed by the Danish Parliament’s Naturalisation Committee as to whether to grant dispensation.

READ MORE: ‘I’m being punished twice’: How a punch-up is stopping this Scot becoming a Danish citizen

Employment

Before 2021, there was no specific work requirement, as long as the applicant had not been receiving social benefits for the last four years.

The new rules require having held a full-time job or having been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years, and to still be employed at the time of application.

Full-time employment means employment in Denmark with an average working week of at least 30 hours. Employment as part of an education employment agreement with a company is also covered in this. 

Applications are also considered by those who have been employed abroad by a Danish company or in connection with a spouse employed abroad by a Danish company for less than two years.

And those employed abroad for less than one year, where the posting or deployment is significant for the sake of the applicant’s employment in Denmark.

There can be exceptions from this category, such as former Danish citizens, people of Danish descent, and members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig in Germany, certain children applying for citizenship without their parents, applicants who have reached the state pension age or have been granted an early retirement pension or senior pension. 

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Language proficiency

In general, you must have passed the national Prøve i Dansk 3 language test, the final exam in the national Danish language school system. As such, you will be comfortable with speaking, reading and writing in Danish at the time you apply for citizenship.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

There are certain exemptions from the language requirements. Residents of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, as well as Swedish and Norwegian speakers, do not need to document Danish proficiency. Dispensation can be given for applicants with certain types of illnesses and disabilities, and different rules apply to children.

The Danish citizenship test

A condition of getting Danish citizenship, is that you demonstrate knowledge of Danish society, culture and history, by having passed ‘Indfødsretsprøven af 2021.’

In April 2021, the existing citizenship test, (indfødsretsprøven) consisting of 40 multiple choice questions, was supplemented with five extra questions about “Danish values” such as equality, freedom of speech and the relation between legislation and religion. 

If you have taken and passed the previous test of 2015, between the test date in June 2016 and the test date in June 2021, this will be accepted as part of your citizenship application.

The Danish citizenship test is held twice yearly, normally at the end of June and the end of November. 

The pass mark is 36/45 and at least four of the five Danish values questions must be answered correctly. You’ll need to attach a certificate showing you’ve passed when you submit your application.

A few – but not many – exemptions apply meaning some people do not have to take the citizenship test. This includes children under 12 or people from Norway or Sweden, or people from the Danish minority in German region Schleswig-Holstein.

READ ALSO:



New Danish citizens attend a celebratory event at Christiansborg in 2015. File photo: Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Where to apply

Applications for citizenship are made via the borger.dk citizens’ self-service website, where you must initially log-in using the MitID system, which replaces the phased-out NemID during 2021. You will then be guided through each step of the application and prompted to upload documentation. Applications can be saved in the system for up to a month. After this, you’ll have to begin from scratch.

You’ll be asked to confirm whether you are using legal representation for your application, then asked to fill in identity information. Some of this – your personal registration number and address, for example – will be automatically filled in. You will also be required to upload a photo of your passport.

Given the hefty application fee, it is important to make sure you have everything in your application correct. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover the many different ways in which personal circumstances and history might affect a citizenship application, but there are options for seeking advice.

You can contact the Ministry of Immigration and Integration for guidance on citizenship rules. Their contact information (including an email address) can be found here.

You also have the option of seeking legal advice. Copenhagen Legal Aid offers such advice to everyone living in Denmark (not just in Copenhagen), and the service is free (depending on your income). You can contact them in person or by telephone.

READ ALSO: ‘I was born in Denmark, but my post-Brexit Danish citizenship application was rejected’

What happens next? 

Once your application is submitted, it’s time to play the waiting game. At the end of 2021, the processing time for applications was approximately 14 months, according to the immigration ministry.

If all goes well and your application is approved by the ministry, you will receive a letter notifying you that you can expect to be accepted for citizenship at the next round of parliamentary procedure, provided you still fulfil the requirements at that time.

Once the new law making you a citizen comes into force, you will be sent a declaration that you have been accepted for citizenship with one final condition: you attend a ceremony, declare that you will uphold Denmark’s laws, values and principles, shake hands with an official and become a citizen.

READ ALSO: Denmark officially ushers in dual citizenship in 2015

Sources: Udlændinge- og Integrationsministeriet (1) (2) (3), Borger.dk, Nyidanmark.dk

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