Wondering just how wrong or right I was going to feel (see Monday’s blog), this week I made it to Brussels for a meeting of the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee. I heard a lot that I liked, made contact with petitioners and MEPs, and was listened to for a few minutes. In the blog below I’m focusing on what I heard from the people I met. Soon I’ll write another with thoughts about what next.
From Professor Eleanor Spaventa, director of the Durham European Law Institute and author of a report commissioned by the Committee, called, “The impact of Brexit in relation to the right to petition and on the competences, responsibilities and activities of the Committee on Petitions”:
- Her view that post Brexit the European Union should consider Brits as “former citizens”, retaining the rights and protections they had as citizens.
- Particular concerns about students, pensioners, workers, the self-employed, family members and the economically inactive
- Complications that many EU member states still not compliant in recognising EU worker status. All countries have to agree a definition of “worker”, with potential implications for their own country.
- Questions around people who are part-time, especially zero hours contracts, but also those who have enough money to only work sometimes.
- People in UK already experiencing concern about how they provide evidence of their permanent residence.
- Students vulnerable to health risks if there was withdrawal without a deal, because statistically speaking they’re likely to be unaware of the need for comprehensive health insurance.
Her conclusions included the important role for the EU in eliminating the risk to people and the vital importance of a withdrawal agreement. Prof Spaventa’s report is worth a read, clearly structured and skimmable. See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=IPOL_STU(2017)583154
From Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, via pre-recorded video message, quotes I noted in case I get a chance to quote them back at him in my call for the right to be heard:
- “Protecting the rights of citizens is our moral duty”
- “Citizens should be able to enforce these rights effectively”
From Danuta Hübner MEP, chair of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs:
- She stated clearly that there is no precedent for the loss of citizenship ie that Europe’s constitution doesn’t provide for it, so there’s no guidance they can follow.
- Without a constitutional guide it’s really important that they hear from citizens/petitioners during the negotiation.
- This process is part of the evolution of citizenship.
From Richard Corbett MEP, member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs:
- Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon may not be in conformation with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
- European Parliament will have a vote on the eventual withdrawal agreement and if there’s any doubt on whether it breaches fundamental rights they should stop the clock on Article 50 and refer the agreement to the European Court of Justice to check its legality. So to make Brexit legal may require treaty change.
From Jane Golding, lawyer and petitioner, British in Europe, petition 0307/2017:
- European Parliament is preparing a post-summer paper on citizenship/rights
From Jude Kirton-Darling MEP:
- The Parliament has protection of citizens’ rights as first priority
Other petitions that I would urge people to look up at https://petiport.secure.europarl.europa.eu/petitions/en/home:
- Ignacio Romero-Romero, Españoles en Reino Unido, petition 0470/2017
- TJ, petition 0393/2017
- Edward Williamson, petition 0790/2016
- Fiona Godfrey, British in Europe, petition 0307/2017
- Tony Venables, Foundation on European Rights, Involvement and Trust, petition 0101/2017
- Unnamed woman from Liberal Youth, petition 147/2017 on Erasmus+
My final mention is for Ann Clwyd MP, who was presenting her own petition (0164/2017). She explained that once upon a time in the ‘70s she had followed the party line against EEC membership but had changed her mind and become the first ever British petitioner. She gave us,
“It’s a good thing to change your mind if you come across something to change your mind.”