How Brexit and the fight for rights united Britons from across Europe

The trauma of Brexit and the fight to make sure the UK's divorce from the EU does not ruin the lives of 1.2 million Brits living across the EU has brought people together both online and in person. This is the story of how the 'citizen of nowhere network' came together.

How Brexit and the fight for rights united Britons from across Europe
Jane Golding (holding banner on left) and Kathryn Dobson (holding banner in centre) at the People's March in London in 2018. Photo: British in Europe.

This is Part Three of the story on how British in Europe, the grassroots civil society movement, was born. You can read Part One and Part Two below. 

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

Part Two – Battling Brexit: How a group of Brits in Europe took on the fight for citizens' rights

The unprecedented campaign for citizens rights by British volunteers across Europe has built bridges from one community to another in individual EU countries and across the continent.

Thousands have come together both in person and online.

Dozens of Facebook groups founded and run by volunteers have united thousands of British citizens left shocked and anxious after the referendum.

While these groups, such as Bremain in Spain and Remain in France Together, are, as their name suggests, Remainer-focused, they have brought and bring together people from all walks of life and even people who voted Leave.

“One of the only positives of Brexit is that I have met some fantastic people across Europe,” the co-chair of umbrella group British in Europe Fiona Godfrey says.

“I have seen people who have nothing to do with politics get involved. The knock on effect will be good for them and their communities,” adds Godfrey. Almost all the campaigners involved with British in Europe are pro-European and ultimately anti Brexit.

Kalba Meadows, who leads the 11,000 strong Remain in France Together (RIFT) confirms the irony that “none of us would have met each other if it weren’t for Brexit.”

Many of the online forums serve as a virtual parliament, court and advice clinic wrapped into one for thousands of upset UK nationals in Europe, many of whom were unable to vote in the referendum.

Members of British in Europe meet with French senator Olivier Cadic and Nicolas Hatton, the head of the3Million.

Clarissa Killwick, a volunteer with Brexpats Hear Our Voice and British in Italy, agrees that the connections made via these online groups are one of the major highlights of her work.

“It is my citizen of nowhere network,” says Killwick, a Brit living in northern Italy, referring to Theresa May's famous jibe against people who believe they are global citizens. “I feel reconnected.”

From the Baltics to Malta, via Czech Republic, Sweden, Portugal and the EU’s major economies, British in Europe is now made up of 25 groups across European states.

'British in the Baltics' is the latest group, says Debra Williams, British in Europe’s outreach coordinator and founder of advocacy group Brexpats Hear Our Voice.

The biggest challenges came in “countries where there wasn’t any coverage,” Williams says.

Groups were started in places British in Europe lacked a footprint in thanks to social media connections, adds Williams. “Facebook was absolutely key in creating connections,” she says.

Williams, formerly with the RAF and an air traffic controller, says her job involves keeping the groups informed about the steering committee’s key policies.

Kathryn Dobson, a British journalist in southwest France who manages social media for British in Europe, joined the movement out of concerns for her children.

“Everybody was talking about the issue of Brits in Europe being one about pensioners when I could see from my own situation that we needed to be talking about families and young people,” says Dobson, who lives in Vienne, western France.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Where do Brits in France now stand if there's a no-deal Brexit?

“There was a danger that the whole story was not being told,” she says, highlighting how at the time she suspected what is now confirmed by statistics: that 80 per cent of Brits in Europe are of working age, defying the stereotype that Brits in Europe are mainly pensioners.

RIFT founder Kalba Meadows (holding post card on left) British in Europe co-chair Jane Golding (centre) and the3million CEO Nicolas Hatton (holding postcard on right) deliver a letter to the British PM's office at 10 Downing Street in November 2018. Photo: British in Europe. 

READ ALSO:  Could this EU Green Card save freedom of movement for Britons in Europe?

As the rollercoaster Brexit process unfolded, British in Europe’s strength has been the ability to adapt and stay relevant.

In individual member states, their efforts have offered thousands of Brits some respite in the face of continued uncertainty.

Following intensive lobbying efforts by British in Europe members, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark have all created contingency plans for Brits in the event that the current Brexit deal collapses and the UK should exit the EU without an agreement.

READ ALSO: No-deal Brexit: Country by country guide to how the rights of Britons will be affected

These contingency plans would continue to guarantee certain key rights for Brits living in those countries, although in certain countries like France, it all depends on Britain securing the rights of French citizens.

In Germany alone, Jane Golding, Daniel Tetlow and other British in Germany members held eight meetings with Germany’s Brexit coordinators at the Federal German Foreign Office. Similar pressure has been placed on governments across the EU.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Berlin's Brexit registering process

“Brexit is crap but the relationships developed with MEPs, British in Europe and unlikely champions across the EU is the best bit,” says the organisation’s spokeswoman, Brussels-based Laura Shields.

“I’m now connected with caterers in the Alps, someone who runs a children’s company in Budapest, winemakers in the south of France. I would never have met these people if it hadn’t been for the movement,” Shields said.

Many of these groups serve as informal therapy forums and safe havens for vulnerable Brits to express their concerns about Brexit. But the groups have also helped outline and bring together a British diaspora in Europe.

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

“It’s a resource for Britain,” says author Giles Tremlett, who has been based in Madrid for the last 25 years. “We’re not represented in parliament in the same way expatriates are represented in France or Italy,” says Tremlett, a key middleman who helped establish British in Europe in late 2016. 

While French citizens in the UK have Senator Olivier Cadic to represent them, Italian citizens abroad are looked after by Luigi Vignali, director general for Italian citizens abroad at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affair. UK nationals in Europe have no equivalent.

“British in Europe is filling that role,” says Tremlett.

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

Without doubt one of the highlights of the coming together was on October 20th last year when protesters set off from across all parts of Europe to join the 700,000 marching on London calling for a People's Vote.

Joining the march in London was also a show of solidarity by British in Europe with EU Citizens in the UK, another cross-border bond that has been forged as a result of the uncertainty and fears over Brexit.

“The campaign and advocacy group British in Europe has worked hand in hand with our counterpart the3million for two years now, and our friendship and collaboration has been one of the few positives to come out of Brexit,” RIFT's Kalba Meadows told The Local at the time.

“We'll be meeting and marching together as The 5 Million to celebrate that friendship as well as our shared European-ness.”

The campaigning, the lobbying, the marching  and the sharing of experiences will likely continue for months if not years to come, but at least Britons in Europe have a community ready for battle.




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Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

People who have more than one citizenship often hold multiple passports, so what does this mean for crossing borders? Here's what you should know.

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

For many readers of The Local, gaining citizenship of the country where they live helps them to feel more settled – but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long ‘non EU’ queue when coming back into the Schengen zone.

But this week the problems associated with travelling while holding dual citizenship came to light, leaving many people wondering what they should know when they are entering different countries.

Put simply – which passport should you use? And do you have to carry both with you?

Financial Times journalist Chris Giles tweeted that the UK Border Force “detained” his dual-national daughter while she was travelling from France into the UK with her German passport – and not her British one. 

He went on to say that UK border guards released his daughter. According to Giles, the border staff said she should have had both passports with her “and asked why she was travelling on her German one”.

The rules on dual-nationality have not changed, but now that the UK is not in the EU, there are strict rules on non-Brits who enter the country (and vice-versa) which has made it trickier for travel.

For instance, UK nationals receive a stamp in their passport when entering Schengen member states because they are only allowed to stay up to 90 days within an 180 period (unless they have a visa or residency card).

READ ALSO: Brexit: EU asks border police not to stamp passports of British residents 

People coming from the EU to the UK can generally visit as a tourist for up to six months without a visa – but are not allowed to carry out any work while there.

So which passport should you show?

The first thing to be aware of is there are no specific rules on travelling with more than one passport. 

Travellers can choose to use whichever passport they prefer when going to a country. 

But one thing to note is that it’s worth using the passport that is best suited to your destination when travelling there. Each country has its own set of immigration and visa rules that you’ll need to research closely.

It could be that one passport is better suited for your trip – and you may be able to avoid visa requirements.  

READ ALSO: How powerful is the German passport?

In the case of the UK, many people are still getting to grips with the different rules that apply because it’s not in the EU anymore.

A question submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in September 2021 provided some insight into this issue. 

The question from Labour’s Paul Blomfield asked what steps the UK government “is taking to enable dual UK and EU citizens to travel to the UK on an EU member state passport without having to further prove their UK citizenship?”

The Conservatives Kevin Foster said: “Border Force Officers examine all arriving passengers to establish whether they are British citizens, whether they require leave to enter or if they are exempt from immigration control.

“Where the passenger claims to be British, but does not hold any evidence of British citizenship, the officer will conduct all relevant checks to satisfy themselves the passenger is British.

Border control at Hamburg airport.

Border control at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“When dual nationals who are eligible to use e-gates travel to the UK, they will enter via the e-gates without being examined by an immigration officer.

“We recommend all dual nationals, including EU citizens, travel on their British passport or with evidence or their British citizenship to minimise any potential delay at the border or when commencing their journey.”

The Local contacted the UK Home Office to ask if there was any official advice. 

A spokesman said: “An individual can present whichever passport they desire to enter the UK, however they will be subject to the entry requirements associated with the nationality of the passport they present.”

They said anyone who is looking for more information should check out guidance on entering the UK and on dual nationality.

In short, if you present a German passport on entry to the UK you will be treated the same as any other German citizen – which can include being quizzed about your reasons for visiting the UK – as border guards have no way of knowing that you are a dual-national. 

Do I have to carry both passports?

There’s no rule requiring you to have both passports, but you won’t get the benefits of a British passport (entry into the UK without questions) if you don’t show it.

Likewise if you are a French-British dual national and you enter France on your UK passport, you will need to use the non-EU queue and may have your passport stamped.

Should I think about anything else?

An important thing to remember is that if you apply for a visa and register your passport details, the same passport has to be used to enter the country. 

It could also make sense to travel with both passports, just in case. 

However, note that some countries – like the US – require that US nationals use a US passport to enter and leave the States even if they are dual nationals. 

In general, it’s best to use the same passport you entered a country with to depart.

The rules and systems are different depending on the country. But many countries require people to show their passport when leaving – and they will either stamp or scan the passport – this is how authorities know that a foreign visitor hasn’t overstayed their time in the country. 

So if your passport is checked as you leave the UK, you should show the one you arrived with, just to ensure there is a record of you arriving and leaving.

However as you enter France/Germany/other EU destination, you can show your EU passport in order to maximise the travel benefits of freedom of movement.