(Editor’s note: This is John Shaw’s speech from the launch of Fair Deal for Expats in Lauzun, France on 17 August 2016. Fair Deal for Expats is a volunteer non-profit, membership-supported group that seeks to ensure expats’s interests are represented in Brexit negotiations. You can register here.)
My name is John Shaw, and I have been asked to be the spokesperson for the new Association called “Fair Deal for Expats Campaign.” Fair Deal for Expats Campaign was set up due to our concerns for our futures here in France, following the ‘Brexit’ referendum. Like France, Britain follows a basic democratic process, through the election of Members of Parliament of different political persuasions to represent us, who are mandated by us to make decisions on a majority voting basis under an elected Government.
Very occasionally, Governments have chosen to also use a referendum process in order to gauge public opinion, but, unlike several other referendums, the result of this latest was established at the beginning, to be advisory only, NOT binding. Although we do not agree with the outcome of this referendum, we have to respect that a majority of those who voted, did so in favour of Brexit. It is what democracies do, but we apologise for the outcome.
It seems insulting to France and the other European countries, where Expat British people have been so warmly welcomed. We have made our lives and homes here because we love France and the French people, and the expatriate way of life. Please do not hold the negative referendum result against us Expat residents here.
Fair Deal for Expats Campaign was set up by a small group of people here in Lauzun of varied interests and ages, after the “Brexit” referendum. Under the terms of the referendum, Britain chose to leave the European Union, of which it has been a member for over 40 years. As a result of that decision, we and all our families face an uncertain future, both with regards to our entitlements and rights and with regard to our privileges of being able to live and work anywhere in Europe, not just in France.
“Well that doesn’t affect me,” you might say!
• Do you work here in France? On a EU ‘right to work anywhere’ basis?
Then you ARE affected. That “right” could disappear, and you might need to apply for work permit as a non-EU citizen!
• Are you employed here in France?
Then your position might be at risk. If you are not an “EU” citizen, then you might need to re-apply for your job as they MUST give priority to EU citizens!
• Do you travel across Europe? Without having to go through immigration checks or border controls?
Then you ARE affected, and you might need to dig out that passport more often!
• Have you ever had to apply for a visa? Not for travel within Europe.
Then you ARE affected. You might now need to apply even for travel in the Schengen area. Even then, it might only allow you three months here!
• Do you have children or grandchildren here in French schools, pre-schools, crèches, child-minders, or college? Do you know how they might be affected, or their rights to education compromised? No?
Then you and they ARE affected.
• Do you receive a UK pension here? At the moment it is indexed?
Then you ARE affected. Although the UK Government says it will continue annual indexation, are you certain they will stick to their word – they haven’t many, many times before!
• Do you receive healthcare here in France through the French state system?
Then you ARE affected. If you are a pensioner who gets transferred benefits from the NHS, then that may well change. You might have to start paying serious money!
• Do you own property here in France?
Then you ARE likely to be affected, since at present you own it as a European citizen; in future, as a foreigner. That may affect how you are taxed, both in life, and even more so, in death!
• Do you have an “Assurance Vie” contract or other investments here in France, which are specifically prepared and contracted for expatriates?
Then you ARE affected, as these contracts may no longer be valid in the form they are!
• Have you a Will to leave your property and goods to your family? Is it drawn up under UK law?
Then you ARE affected! Under EU law, you can choose to use the law of your home state. If you are not an EU citizen, you will have to use the law of the country you are living in – here, Napoleonic law!
These are just a few of the issues that we believe are going to affect the British Expat here and in the rest of the EU. We simply don’t know. Nobody knows: That is the problem. As Donald Rumsfeld once famously said: It’s not the things we know, or the things we don’t know; it’s the things we don’t know we don’t know that should concern us.”
That is what we feel, it’s the unknown, unknowns that worry us. Whether we pay taxes in the UK, in France, or in both countries, we participate in the economy of this country whether through work, as families, or as retirees. Our lives are bound up in the communities in which we have chosen to live. The decision to withdraw affects our rights as EU citizens, which we value highly.
As residents here, some of us were able to vote in the referendum; some, because of the so-called 15-Year Rule, were excluded. We feel our integrated communities are affected, our way of life threatened, and we face an uncertain future.
We want to change that! We believe that this is best done through a proper legal process.
If you are affected by any of these issues, do you want to ensure that these issues are addressed in any negotiations? Then you need to join us. As my good friend Wynne says – “We are the only game in town” – our group is the ONLY group representing the needs of Expats, that ALREADY has the right to be heard in the Supreme Court.
We are speaking with British Expats in other European countries such as Spain, Germany, Ireland, Slovakia, Italy and Holland who are similarly affected, share our concerns, and wish to act with us. We are seeking to make this action all European inclusive. Do you really not want to be heard? Your concerns taken into account?
We believe that the next step MUST BE a fully informed UK Parliamentary debate, by our democratically elected MPs. Only then, following such a debate, might the UK Government be able to decide on whether the UK should exit the European Union. If the majority of democratically elected members of Parliament vote to leave the Union, then we must proceed with separation from the EU, and notify the EU of the UK’s intention to proceed to exit, in accordance with article 50 of the convention.
We have obtained appropriate legal advice at the highest level, and through our solicitors in London, we have participated in formal judicial review proceedings in the High Court in London. Two High Court Judges have already assessed our Intervenors application, and it has now been accepted by them that Fair Deal for Expats represents quite distinct and different interests from the other cases that are before that court.
The next hearing is in October this year, and will then go on appeal – skipping the Court of Appeal – directly to the highest court in the land – the Supreme Court.
Fair Deal for Expats is the ONLY group that has this legal action! We are now gathering detailed information about how the Brexit action might affect individuals and families in order to build up the evidence for our case. We need to know what affects us. The Guardian recently reported that the Prime Minister’s initiative in Europe had failed “because we don’t know the questions, let alone the answers.” There might be issues that affect YOU that no one else has thought about, and you have every right to have your concerns given full attention.
Our approach is therefore two-pronged:
1. A legal attack – The Judicial review, and other actions that are being prepared
2. IF Brexit goes ahead, we need to ensure that ALL of our issues and concerns are properly considered and the best possible and fair deal is obtained for Expats.
To do this, we need to raise funds, for 2 reasons:
1. We need money to pay the legal costs and expenses of our solicitors and the QC team, the people who represent us, and the costs of the association. Please note that this is a voluntary association – the committee is not remunerated. The Association was established as a matter of urgency, and for this reason was kept small; but it and the Committee are NOT an exclusive club, we are all for one, and one for all – we ask you to join with us and work with us. We need you, and to paraphrase a saying, YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU! If we have ever appeared remote or exclusive, we apologise. We have had to move quickly and decisively, but we are now able to spread our wings, and all get involved.
2. We need funds in order to carry out surveys and studies, to provide information about those “unknown unknowns”, the questions that we don’t know about, so that we can find the answers. We need to be able to present clear demographic pictures of expats living across Europe, so the legal and lobbying teams can use this information in their representations for us.
Today, we are formally launching our campaign across Europe. Our website is constructed, live, and ready to receive your applications or donations, and our first press releases have already been issued, with many more to follow. We are creating links with other organisations in Holland, Spain, Italy and Germany right now.
About the author:
John Shaw lives in southwest France, where he moved in February 2010. Originally trained as an architect, subsequently became a multi-project manager, and hand-holder for overseas government ministries. Shaw has set up and managed several companies. He’s retired from self-employment as a Financial Services Consultant in 2009. He’s married with three children and six grandchildren.