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Michael Harris steps down from the Steering Team

Michael Harris steps down from the Steering Team

Michael Harris, a stalwart of the BiE Steering Team for the past 4 years (in the light blue shirt meeting the Spanish Ambassador), is handing his Steering Team baton to his Eurocitizen's team mate Nigel Aston (far left). For the past four years he has taken on many roles with good humour and determination including that of BiE's resident wordsmith and writer of newsletters. The Steering Team will miss him greatly and we thank him for his commitment on behalf of Spanish residents as well as the wider community of British citizens living in the EU. We'll leave the final words to him:

"As we move from campaigning for citizens' rights to monitoring the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, I am leaving the BiE steering group. It has been a gruelling campaign. We have carried our banner at demonstrations, screamed outrage at having our European identity ripped from us. We have endured the vertigo of Brexit cliff-edges and witnessed the stomach-churning anxiety of citizens cut adrift by their own government. We have confronted swivel-eyed Brexiter MPs during appearances at select committees. But, for the most part, it has been unglamorous graft: interminable Zoom calls; struggling over Google docs about exportable benefits; meeting deadlines for newsletters and press releases.

My first lesson from this odd period in all our lives is that, as Lenin knew, a small group of determined people can make a difference. Fronting BiE is a trio of talented lawyers who have walked into meetings with senior civil servants and politicians and, by martialling arguments with passion and precision, have gained their attention and respect. Other team members have enabled this by providing insider knowledge of the corridors of power, a grasp of complex bureaucratic issues, communications expertise, financial acumen, networking and admin skills.

The old adage that unity is strength has proved true. Our partnership with the3million has provided a united front for the five million Britons in the EU and Europeans in the UK whose lives have been blighted by Brexit. BiE has established a continent-wide network of groups in Member States that feed into our advocacy and, in return, receive information to assist them with their lobbying. This is harder than it sounds in the rarified social media environment of the British diaspora with its keyboard warriors, know-alls who actually know very little and certain drum-banging Facebook groups with no stomach for the hard grind of citizens' rights.

The third lesson is less edifying. In the febrile tussling of Brexit negotiations, politicians on both sides have put people second to trade and political expediency. More effort has been spent on cod than on the 1.2 million UK citizens in the EU. And Britain's (or rather England's) curiously dysfunctional relationship with migration and identity has made our campaign more difficult than it should have been. Nevertheless, BiE has achieved a huge amount. We lost key battles on freedom of movement and EU-wide service provision, but had wins on the recognition of multiple statuses and the extension of the applicability of current "home" university fees for UKinEU for courses starting between now and 2028. And 90% of our achievements are invisible: the raising of countless issues that affect UK citizens’ lives of which politicians and civil servants were blissfully unaware. Without British in Europe, we would be in a much, much worse place than we are now.

From the outset I promised to leave when campaigning was over - by temperament and skillset being more suited to the heat of battle than the slow burn of Withdrawal Agreement implementation. I have also been itching to spend more time in my local environmental group, fighting corrupt developers and as a foot soldier in the war against climate collapse. While staying on in the EuroCitzens committee, I will miss regular contact with my BiE colleagues who have shown me that citizens' rights activism can be fun, fulfilling and therapeutic - the best way of coping with the Brexit Blues. So here is a heartfelt au revoir, auf wiedersehen and arrivederci to Jane, Fiona, Jeremy, Roger, Debbie, Kalba, Kathryn, Christopher and Zoe."

Michael Harris: 1 February 2021

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We'd like to take this opportunity to welcome Nigel Aston to the team. Nigel writes:

"I am delighted to accept the invitation to join the Steering Team of BiE, extended to me as President of EuroCitizens, in succession to Michael Harris. Thank you very much for this.

Within EuroCitizens, we have been lucky to have an inside view of the work that BiE has undertaken and accomplished, over and above the details published directly or indirectly in the press. It is humbling that so much effort has been extended by relatively so few to ensure that the lives of well over a million people can go on much after Brexit as before. From the sidelines we can but admire the effort and tenacity with which BiE has pursued this, as well as the force of the intellectual arguments put to governments and the European Union.

I think we recognise that the heavy lifting has been accomplished, and with considerable success, despite disappointment over the broad freedom of movement issues. The bulk of issues relevant to our “constituents” are protected in the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and I am convinced that this would not have been so without your collective efforts.

Now, we have to ensure that the WA is respected. It is a privilege for me to join the Steering Team for this, perhaps, final chapter and I hope to make a constructive contribution to BiE in the coming months."

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