Jennifer Wilson started the Big EU Passport campaign in 2017. She explains why she is campaigning for British citizens to retain their EU passports and their citizens’ rights after Brexit.
First published in September 2019.
I started the Big EU Passport campaign to campaign for the Rights of UK citizens based in the UK and who currently have EU Citizenship. Some of us occasionally work abroad or plan to in the future or would like to keep this option open. We fully support the3million group who represent EU27 citizens in the UK and the British in Europe groups as well. Absolutely. It has been hard to get the rights of the 60 million-plus UK citizens/EU Citizens to be recognised.
I was always very pro-European, and while working at the University of Dundee in Ninewells Hospital, I was asked to do some extra work on the EU Midas NET project which was being run by one of the members in my Department of Medical Physics. We would go to various places in Scotland and talk to Small and Medium Enterprises and librarians to increase understanding of how to use the Tenders Electronic Daily database. So I have a particular insight into one area of how the EU works.
I remember on one of our travels back home one night from Aberdeen back to Dundee, we discussed how much influence our national government had on the everyday life in the country versus the influence of the European Union. We decided it was hard to tell.
In the years that followed this, I had three children, and we made a point of holidaying abroad in France numerous times, and in Sweden too. We spoke the local language, and my sons competed in an athletics championship in Gothenburg which was hosted every year by the local club and featured young athletes from countries such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, UK, and Germany. Always in a great atmosphere.
I have to say we have tried to do our bit to be full Europeans! And this is not always easy from an island! My son who is now at University has also just completed a European exchange semester at the same University my brother attended 30 years ago on one of the first Erasmus exchanges. The Erasmus experience led to my brother becoming a fluent French speaker, and he subsequently worked for a few years as an engineer in France. He has now produced a Haynes manual book in the archaeology field along with a French engineer/archaeologist. None of this would have happened without Erasmus.
Fast forward past the 2014 Scottish Referendum where I voted No – mainly in order to take the best chance at remaining in the EU. I can remember standing and deciding, and realising it was a risk as England might possibly vote to leave the EU. But contrast that with pronouncements saying Scotland would not get to join the EU immediately, and I am afraid I then cast my vote as a No.
By 2016 in Glasgow, where I live, I think we had reached referendum fatigue. The difference though with the Scottish Referendum was that the discussions on the issues then had taken place extensively BEFORE the Referendum! With the 2016 Referendum it appears to all have happened AFTERWARDS!
When I look at my blogs, I find that I really did not get involved in pro-EU campaigning in 2016 at all. Maybe at the time I thought there was going to be a plan. But by 2017 I was campaigning again, and that summer I produced a metre-high Big EU Passport. The statement on the passport is as follows: “This UK Passport gives us, as EU Citizens, the right to live and work in 28 EU Countries (and 3 EEA Countries). We, the undersigned, do not want to lose this right and ask that our rights are fully protected and that they are valued and considered in any Brexit negotiations.”
The first person to sign it was the then-Scottish MEP David Martin, the UK’s longest serving MEP at the time. We collected hundreds of signatures after that from concerned citizens.
In September that year, I attended the excellent “Brexit: Rights and Citizenship” conference at the Scottish Universities Legal Network on Europe SULNE Workshop. This was when I found out our EU Citizenship was really not terribly meaningful and could be removed. It is based on the UK being a member of the EU. I was not happy.
On 14 December 2017, we made a submission to the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee Brexit: Citizens’ rights inquiry and we heard that our submission had been accepted! (Here is a link to all submissions you can find us on.)
By March 2018, I had become part of Glasgow Loves EU which is a group within the European Movement in Scotland. We then had two Big EU Passports. Änne Russell, a member of the Tynedale EU Interest Group and supporter of Angels from Europe group from the North East of England had also made one. Änne, a German EU national who has been been living and working in the UK for 38 years had been involved in Erasmus, too, offering places/practical experience to German Erasmus students in her business, in Hexham. She did not renew her initial “indefinite leave to remain” status in 1986 as it was deemed to be unnecessary because the UK was a full member of the EU.
Her group got involved in campaigning as well. We marched together at the Edinburgh march in the sunshine (March 2018) and held our passports high. Our photograph made it onto the website of the New European. But still the message was not really getting out there.
Of the possible Brexit type deals, the EEA option would have given us the best chance of maintaining EU Freedom of Movement as happens in Norway, though with some restrictions. Some deals like Canada would allow some visa-free travel for up to 90 days potentially and allow for some working to happen. A No-Deal Brexit would be disastrous as in this case the relation between the UK and the EU would be managed under World Trade Organisation rules, which do not confer any right to citizens to enter, reside or work in other countries. The best option still is to Remain!
In my blog I talk about some of the people I know who rely on Freedom of Movement. I have friends who work on contracts abroad but are based in the UK. And I know numerous young people who work abroad as parts of careers or just to gain experience of working in another country. I can list numerous examples in numerous employment areas from opera singers to au pairs!
We set up a Freedom of Movement map in Glasgow on Europe Day in May 2018 and discovered that the people passing by in just one hour had lived and worked in 20 countries of the EU and the people of Glasgow had visited every single one of the 28 EU countries! Freedom of Movement is GOOD!
We had a gov.uk petition that finished in April 2019 that got past the 10,000 to get a government response. The petition stated: “Protect our Freedom of Movement Rights - As EU Citizens, UK citizens currently have Freedom of Movement to work in 28 Countries of the EU & also in 3 EEA countries. We do not want to lose these rights. We ask that the UK Government consider our Rights in Brexit negotiations as many of us use them to work across the countries of Europe.” The disappointing response from the government starts out with: “As we leave the EU, free movement will end. But recognising that mobility is a key element of economic, social and scientific cooperation, the UK will seek reciprocal mobility provisions with the EU.” and goes on from there but offers nothing that I find reassuring for our situation.
A friend on Twitter summed it up exactly how I feel: “Travelling in Europe, using the roads, eating in the cafés, staying with family, it’s always been uplifting to know that I have, as an EU Citizen, as much right to be there as the locals. That the whole of Europe is my home, not just this rainy, offshore island. Worth the fight!”🔷
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