On 29 March 2017, the UK government gave notice to the President of the Council of the European Union of its intention to leave the EU. The clock has therefore begun ticking in earnest, and unless there is a specific agreement to extend the period, or to make other arrangements, the UK will leave the EU exactly two years later, and become a "third country".
Again, unless agreements to the contrary are firmly in place by Brexit Day 2019, trade relationships between the UK and the EU27 will be transformed. Indeed, in the worst case (i.e. no agreement at all, the hardest of hard Brexits), many trade relationships between the UK and the EU27 will quite simply stop until the legalities of continuing have been sorted out.
Lord Llewellyn, the British Ambassador to France, told the British Community Committee of France on 3 April:
"As you know, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, wrote last week to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council in Brussels, to give formal notice of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is an important moment. But, I know that it is also one which brings with it some uncertainty both for our French friends and for the vibrant British community living on this side of the Channel.
The Embassy will be continuing, and stepping up, its outreach to the British communities in France concerning Brexit. I look forward to working with your association on all this in the months ahead; and I am keen to understand the key concerns of the British communities, including those of your members, to make sure that these are properly fed back to London.
I would like to share with you some of last week’s communications from the Embassy that I would be grateful if you could disseminate to your members:
An article in Le Parisien by Theresa May
My video published on our Embassy’s Facebook page
My article in Ouest-France
My article for The Connexion, to be published on their website, and in their next printed edition."
We are very grateful for the support of the British Embassy because, if no agreements to the contrary are securely in place, the British in France, indeed British nationals living anywhere in the EU27 member states and Switzerland, will lose their EU citizenship rights. This is extremely serious: EU citizenship gives us a bundle of indivisible rights which enable us to lead our lives with tranquillity in our country of adoption.
These rights include the right to reside and to remain where we are, the right to work and to have our UK professional qualifications recognised, and the right to have all periods of work in other EU countries aggregated so that we don't lose any pension entitlements.
Plus, for UK citizens who have made national insurance contributions and paid tax in the UK over their working lives, and who have retired, say, to France, but have not contributed to the French system, the right to receive healthcare services in France paid for under EU-wide agreements by the home country, in our case the UK.
Safeguarding these rights must be the number one priority for all of us. Which is why the British Community Committee of France (BCC) has joined forces with a number of other organisations representing UK nationals in EU countries where large numbers of UK nationals live, to try to influence the debate now going on in the UK – a debate which will soon begin also in Brussels and the other member states.
These organisations are:
Brits in Europe (Germany)
Expat Citizen Rights in the EU (ECREU) (France)
Fair Deal for Expats (France)
RIFT (Remain in France Together)
Bremain in Spain
Brexpats Hear our Voice (Belgium)
British in Italy
British Immigrants Living in Luxembourg (BRILL)
and, in the UK, the3million (representing the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK) and New Europeans.
The BCC takes part in weekly telephone conferences with these organisations, to plan and execute various actions with the aim of raising awareness of our concerns among UK and EU politicians. This led to the BCC being represented by our Chairman, Christopher Chantrey OBE, at oral evidence sessions at the House of Commons Select Committee on Exiting the EU, on 18th January 2017, and at the Commons Health Committee on 21st February.
Working together with these other representative groups also led to the joint publication of the Alternative White Paper on EU citizenship rights, and how losing those rights would upset the lives of millions of people. This was distributed to MPs and peers on the same day as the Government White Paper on exiting the EU, and provides extra information in particular on point 6 of the 12 points in the Government White Paper.
Meanwhile, The Connexion reports here that on 4 April the European Parliament passed a resolution by a large majority setting out the European Parliament’s wishes for the coming Brexit negotiations – including paragraphs aimed at protecting British citizens in the EU.