I talk with Roger Casale, the founder of New Europeans about Brexit, #the5million campaign and the New Europeans’ proposal of the European Green Card. Initially this interview was published in Polish on Onet.pl.
Piotr Maciej Kaczyński: There is about one million Poles in the UK. But the migration of people around the EU is a much bigger issue. In 2018 there were over 17 million EU residents in a member states other than their own. Out of them, 850.000 are British citizens resident in other EU countries. 2500 of you are in Poland. How are you affected by Brexit?
Roger Casale: One of the many paradoxes of Brexit is that the British have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the rights we have as EU citizens to live, study, work and retire in any EU member state. The statistics about the number of British citizens living in the EU are very incomplete because not everyone is registered. We believe it is as high as 1.4 million. The UK has also profited hugely from the enormous contribution Polish and other EU citizens have made to the UK economy and to cultural and social diversity in the UK. Under the withdrawal agreement, for example the British citizens residing in Poland will retain the right to reside in Poland. But as things stand they will not retain the right to free movement unless this can be secured through the negotiations now underway between the UK and the EU about the future relationship. The EU Green Card proposal being put forward by New Europeans would give back to British citizens who moved to the EU before Brexit the right to free movement. It would also give EU citizens in the UK a physical proof of status. We are actively in discussion with leading MEPs to advance this proposal.
Can you tell me more about the Green Card? What is it exactly?
The EU Green Card is a practical solution to the problem of how to secure and guarantee the rights of the 3.6m EU citizens in the UK and 1.4 m Britons in Europe post Brexit. The key idea is that you treat all these citizens as one group (#the5million) whose rights lives have been thrown into limbo by Brexit rather than as two groups with rights to be traded off one against the other. As if they were bargaining chips in a negotiation.
In our proposal the EU Green Card would be issued by the EU Commission and all EU citizens in the UK with settled status would be eligible to apply for it. The EU Green Card would give these citizens – Poles and all other EU citizens who came to the UK before Brexit – a physical proof of status. So for example when trying to rent a flat or when applying for a job they would be able to show the Green Card. It would get over the problem that many landlords and potential employers are unfamiliar with immigration laws. They do not go online to check a person’s settled status or may not be able to do so if the Home Office website is down. For Britons in the EU, the Green Card would give them back their free movement rights. To be eligible, the UK citizens would need to demonstrate that they have the equivalent of a settled status in an EU member state.
So it is about the legal status and the economic rights, not as much about the political rights of the 5 million people? I mean, The 1.4 million British living outside UK in other EU states were deprived of the right to vote in the Brexit referendum back in 2016 in the first place, isn’t this so?
The job of the Green Card is to ring fence the current rights and status of the 5 million including their democratic rights. This means maintaining the right to stand and vote in local elections which in the UK extends to voting for the London Mayor and Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. New Europeans is calling for EU citizens in the UK to also be given the right to vote in General Elections. British citizens lose their right to vote after 15 years residence abroad. We are also campaigning for this 15 year rule to be lifted.
If EU citizens and Britons abroad had had the vote in the Brexit referendum the UK would still be a member of the EU. Roger Casale
Exactly, the most directly affected by the 2016 vote were the 5 million: Britons abroad and EU citizens in the UK. They were denied the vote. How was it justified in the first place?
When the Referendum Bill was debated in parliament in 2015/2016, New Europeans asked MPs Tm Brake and Mike Gapes to table an amendment extending the franchise to EU citizens in the UK. The amendment was formulated in such a way that had it been passed the referendum would have been held on the local election franchise and not the general election franchise which would have meant that EU citizens in the UK would have had the vote. In parallel we campaigned for the 15 year rule for Britons abroad to be lifted. Both measures were defeated. It is quite incredible to relate but some of the MPs who voted down the bill, including from the Labour side, argued that we could not enfranchise EU citizens because we knew which way they were likely to vote. This would be akin to holding a national consultation on the introduction of a third runway at Heathrow airport for example but excluding people within a 100 mile radius of the airport from taking part! It is a democratic outrage that #the5million have been deprived of their votes on the basis of a plebiscite. This would be the case whether or not they had had the vote. The fact that they did not have the vote makes it even worse. But it is not that no one tried to get the vote for the 5 million. New Europeans did. We campaigned for it, we had the debate in parliament at the time as a result of our campaign and it was voted down. This is a scandal of the first order, but there is more.
In 2019, up to 1.7 m EU citizens were denied their vote in the European elections in the UK due to a systematic failure by the government to prepare for the elections in a timely way despite warnings from New Europeans ahead of the elections and the mobilisation by us of a considerable parliamentary caucus drawing attention to this danger. And so it goes on. This is why we are calling now for EU citizens to be given the vote in general elections as well as for the 15 year rule that bars Britons abroad from voting to be scrapped.
Do you have any hopes for a Brenter? Do you expect the Britons living in EU to start asking for EU citizenship? It seems there is already a movement in Ireland...
I’m sure that the UK will rejoin the EU one day. The majority of the population are against Brexit today and that will grow and grow for demographic reasons (younger people are disproportionately pro EU membership). There are also the economic and social consequences of Brexit beginning to unravel. When the UK does apply to rejoin the EU it will have to realise that it is joining not just a single market but also a community of values. These values are ones that most young people share. This will happen even more quickly if there is no deal about the future relationship. Britons in Europe need to ask for an EU Green Card which would be an equivalent status to the status they had previously.
For now there is no realistic prospect of the EU agreeing to give EU citizenship to people who are not nationals of an EU member state. This would require treaty change and would be vetoed if it ever got that far. But the green card does not require treaty change and has the advantage of offering a clear benefit to Polish and EU citizens in the UK, too. We hope that the Polish government will put forward a clause to be included in the new negotiating mandate for Michel Barnier which will instruct him to seek agreement with the UK on the introduction of an EU Green Card. There are 900,000 Poles in the UK and they would benefit hugely from being able to have a Green Card as would all EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe.
Roger Casale is an award-winning civil rights campaigner and the founder of New Europeans, an NGO based in Brussels and London and working for a Europe of the Citizens. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a former Labour MP. He lives in Italy and holds the title of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Commendatore) and is a regular participant and speaker at the Krynica Forum (Polish Davos).