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Emotional speech from British petitioner on Brexit: “Don’t forsake us just yet”

European leaders recently agreed on Brexit negotiating guidlines and decided to put people’s interests first, with an emphasis on the 3 million Europeans living in the UK. But a speech from one British petitioner changed some minds and touched many hearts in the European Parliament.

Leona Bashow from Manchester argues, in a petition on the involuntary loss of EU citizenship following the result of the UK referendum, that that Article 50 must be interpreted in the strictest possible way so as to provide as much protection for its citizens as possible.

Bashow’s petition desperately asked the EU Parliament for help in protecting the rights of all the EU citizens that live in the UK, as she still sees British nationals as EU citizens.

Recently, Leona Bashow, who is an immigration lawyer, took the stage at a special session in the European Parliament organised by the committees of Civil Liberties, Employment and Petitions.

“When I launched my petition just after the Brexit vote I never imagined that one day I’d be here, discussing it. As a great enthusiast of EU law and the European Union for many years, this is a great honour. It is also a great honour for me to say that I am a British citizen because along side that nationality I have citizenship of the European Union. Therefor my petition argues that the EU must also stand up for the rights of the British living in the UK whilst conducting the Brexit negotiations, as we face the loss of our EU citizenship,” Leona said in the beginning of her speech.

She went on to say that the result of UK’s referendum on whether to leave the EU only accounts for the adult citizens who voted and ‘does not include the entire view of every British EU citizen, a large percentage of whom include young people below the age of 18.’

“The consequences of Brexit for the citizens of the UK are that we cease to have the rights of free movement which are the most fundamental rights established under the treaties. We also no longer have the protection of our fundamental rights under the charter. In addition, we are deprived of our status as EU citizens which confere these right on us. The EU also loses a Member State and the ever closer union union begins to erode,” she added.

So what can be done in Leona’s opinion?

“An agreement could be reached to put in place a transitional law that guarantees all preexisting British EU nationals their right under EU law. Upon final departure, if it is to be, then perhaps the solution is to have a cut-off date so that any newborn British or recently naturalised citizen would not have union rights,” she explained.

This would not be a ‘better deal’ for the UK, Leona Bashow argued, saying that ‘a deal like this, where the EU has stood up for all of its citizens, shows exactly how committed the EU is in upholding its pledge to protect the rights and principles.’

Leona Bashow continued with an emotional speech imploring EU representatives to act on behalf of all citizens, as she admitted fearing a future shaped only by the UK’s Government.

“Our national government has acted irresponsibly and recklessly in offering the referendum in the first place, it being the result of infighting within the Conservative party. The referendum campaign wast tainted with deliberately misleading statistics, racist propaganda, fearmongering and lack of information about the real causes of people’s dissatisfaction. The result is that every British citizen is punished with the loss of the most fundamental freedoms that the EU has pledge to uphold and protect.

As an immigration lawyer, I have used European law to change people’s lives for the better. I know how powerful a defender of human rights can be. Many people simply do not realise what protections they have through their citizenship of the EU. I value my rights of free movement and this is something that many people I advise would give anything to have. Yet there are those who now are ready to throw it all away.

There is no one left to uphold these rights for us. In fact, the Conservative party’s manifesto is expected to pledge an end to free movement rights and that in turn means my rights and my fundamental freedoms.

I fear the future without the protection of the Charter or the treaties and directives. Will it be the case that no longer I or other British citizen be able to rely on the powerful principles of direct or indirect effect in our national courts? Will we no longer have recourse to the European Court of Justice, which is of vital importance at a time where we have a government so keen to erode our rights of privacy.

I also fear a government that explicitly wants a hostile environment for migrants. I must also remind the Parliament and its members of the British citizens that have or are currently exercising their rights of movement in other EU countries. Who also stand to lose the benefit of their rights under the EU regulations when returning to the UK with their family members.

And finally, I fear a government who wants to replace our human rights with a British bill of rights whatever that may entail. At least as a EU citizen I have the comforting knowledge that my rights in the Charter were there in the European Convention on Human Rights should a government wish to replace or dilute them in the future.

It was kind of nice to know that you were there if I needed you. If ever there was a need for the EU to stand up for its citizens it is now. To stand up for the British EU nationals who face the ultimate Member State breach, the entire loss of their fundamental freedoms.

So please don’t leave us adrift when we need you the most.

Therefore I ask the Parliament and the EU negotiators not to forget about all of its citizens and I implore you not to forsake us British just yet and to fight to guarantee our rights in this Brexit disaster. Because as of today, we are still the EU 28,” Leona Bashow said.

Her speech was followed by applause from many of the MEPs present. Claude Moraes, Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee, said that during the speech he was ‘pretending not to wipe away a tear’ and that ‘a few others were doing that.’

In the joint hearing, most MEPs underlined the “moral duty” to end the uncertainty created for both EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals in the EU since the June referendum and that the EU should let go of the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” in negotiations, because a quick solution for citizens’ rights is a matter of priority.

 

John Beckett

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