The 3 Million forum will campaign for new legislation to protect the rights of all EU citizens already settled in Britain
Monday 10 October 2016 07.00 BST
A group of concerned EU citizens living in Britain are to launch a formal campaign for a new law to protect their rights post-Brexit.
The 3 Million forum has been founded by a group of French people who want to cut through the “xenophobic rhetoric” and assert what they feel is their right to remain.
They plan to lobby MPs for support for a new law to grant every EU citizen already settled in Britain a blanket right to permanent residency.
Nicolas Hatton, a marketing executive who is spearheading the campaign, said he and other concerned French citizens decided they needed to lobby just like any industry sector to convey an urgent need for action.
“It will be sometime before we know what a Brexit deal will look like, but we need something urgently to take the anxiety out of the equation for the 3 million EU citizens in this country,” he said.
The stories you need to read, in one handy email
Hatton, who has lived in the UK for 21 years and is an elected representative of the French overseas community in Britain, helped to set up the 3 Million forum after a meeting of more than 200 EU citizens in Bristol.
“There was a lot of concern being expressed, but it was not channelled in any way so we decided to set up this group. We want to focus on the question of what is going to happen in the future and seek to protect our rights,” he said.
“Our aim is to get to the point where we can get the government to pass a law to protect our rights.”
Like many EU citizens who have settled in the UK, Hatton has watched recent political developments with a growing sense of alarm and feels xenophobia will take root unless it is challenged.
Immigration lawyers are advising many EU citizens who wish to stay in Britain beyond Brexit to apply for permanent residence in order to acquire a degree of protection in the event Theresa May proves unable to negotiate a continuation of reciprocal rights as part of the withdrawal agreement.
There is no legal requirement to do so because all EU citizens currently have reciprocal rights to live, work, retire, draw a pension and access public services across the entire bloc, but leading barristers have said there is “zero chance” this will remain the case after Brexit. They point out that the only rights protected under international law are those to own property and run a business.
Those who have decided to apply for permanent residence say the process is a bureaucratic nightmare. They have to complete an 80-page application form and back it up with dozens of documents including original payslips, bank statements, P60s, tax papers and proof of identity. Applicants must also list all travel during their stay in Britain.
“I have had to list all trips outside the UK for the past six years. If I have been out of the country for more than six months in any one of those trips, they reset the clock,” said David Lusseau, a professor of behavioural biology at the University of Aberdeen, who supports the campaign.
“I feel like a second-class citizen having to do this and my instinct is to tell them where to go, but I have to do this to protect my family,” said Bruno Pollet, a French national living in Britain for 25 years.
Hatton says the 80-page application form is not fit for purpose and the initial focus of the campaign will be to persuade the Home Office to simplify a process that was not designed for EU citizens.
“What we want is something that will give a blanket right to all EU citizens. We don’t think this will happen before the great repeal act, but we don’t want to wait until Brexit day. That will be too late, so now is the time to lobby,” he said.
A closed Facebook group has already attracted more than 3,000 followers and it hopes to spawn an active campaign across the country.
“We want to get members in every constituency lobbying their MP. What you will see is a lot of companies and interest groups campaigning for something, but the difference is we are Europeans who are directly affected. We are not part of the establishment and we need our voice heard,” said Hatton.