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Should I Stay Or Should I Go: Patricia Connell talks to Amber Massie-Blomfield on UK’s departure from the EU, your rights, and the changing dialogue

What will Brexit really mean for EU citizens living in the UK who weren't born here? Against a backdrop of political grandstanding and media hyperbole, it can be hard to distinguish what the consequences will actually be. That’s where Patricia Connell comes in. The CEO and owner of FranceinLondon.com, and a French consular delegate, Patricia has lived in Britain for more than three decades. She holds joint British and French citizenship, and in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, she has been a passionate advocate for the rights of EU citizens living in this country, organising events that provide practical information on Brexit and its implications.

On 19th March, she presents Brexit: Should I Stay or Should I Go? at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre – ‘A whole day of debates, talks and discussions about the future of the UK in Europe ranging from the economic implication of Brexit on trade to the future of Europeans in the UK.’ Lawyers, tax and business advisers will be on hand to offer advice, and the day also features discussion from a stellar line-up of high profile experts, politicians and activists, exploring the critical issues. Amber Massie-Blomfield spoke to Patricia about the event, and the impact of Brexit as she sees it.

Amber Massie-Blomfield: FranceinLondon.com is billed as 'the essential guide for everything French in London'. How has the role of the site changed since Britain's vote to leave the EU?

Patricia Connell:
The role of the FranceInLondon.com website has not changed as such, although we are receiving an increasing number of calls from people who are at a loss over Brexit. However, the other side of the company, French Fairs Ltd, has been placing a greater emphasis on events linked to Brexit. My staff are mostly French and I am both French and British and we all feel very strongly about what is happening and we all want to play our part.

Personally, I have organised events all around the UK to help Europeans understand what they need to do if they want to stay in the UK should we have a hard Brexit. But this is not enough. This is why we have decided to do more for our event on 19th March.

We chose to have this event opposite the Houses of Parliament to show our elected and non-elected members that Europeans came to the UK to work, to bring up their children and to make their lives here but they could also decide to leave. It is not easy but it is possible.

Europeans who are here contribute greatly to the economy. They start businesses, they bring in talents and savoir faire. They pay their taxes. Only a few years ago, I was organising events in Paris to attract entrepreneurs to the UK because the UK was open for business. Sadiq Khan tells us London is still open for business but is it? Can you be open for business when you can no longer recruit the right people for your business?

Amber: Your event, Brexit: Should I Stay or Should I Go? has an impressive line-up of figures involved in the debate about Britain leaving the EU, including activist Gina Miller, leader of the Lib Dems Vince Cable, Professor AC Grayling, historian Tom Holland and many more. Can you tell us a bit more about what you hope will emerge from bringing these individuals - from such a diverse array of backgrounds - together to discuss Brexit?

We are hoping that bringing all these people under one roof will give us the opportunity to talk sensibly and find solutions for our Future. We will also have different groups joining us such as The3Million, Open Britain, OFOC (Our Future, our Choice), and so many more...

Amber: You've spoken about the impact the vote to leave the UK has already had on non-British EU citizens living in the UK. What steps would you like to see the UK government take to safeguard the rights of EU citizens resident here?

At the moment, some EU citizens who have lived in the UK all their lives are going through many hoops to try and get their papers in order. Alas, for some of them, this is not possible because they do not have 5 years of consecutive employment, or they have been unwell for a very long time, or they have not earned the required threshold amounts. These people have their families here or their loved ones are buried here and they have no one left in France. In most cases, they are women who have looked after their families all their lives and have never worked because their husbands were the main breadwinners. For some of them, they are now divorced or their husband has died. Is it right to ask them to leave?

Surely, the right thing to do would be to give them the right to stay without having to show all the things they are being asked to provide. They are not criminals. They just want to continue living peacefully in this country.

Amber: In addition to exploring the implications of Brexit in terms of the economy, business and trade, the programme also includes live performance and music. What role do you think arts and culture could play in building bridges in the wake of Brexit?

We already know the arts are going to be affected more than other sectors. When you are a musician, a dancer, an actor, it can be very difficult for artists to show a regular flow of income. Being self-employed can also add another problem for them. It will be sad to see so many artists leave the UK. It will undoubtedly dramatically change the face of the London cultural scene.

Amber: You set up the event in response to the difficulty caused by 'all the noise created by the media and politicians' around Brexit. What changes would you like to see in how the subject is discussed by public figures and the press?

All the politicians are using the media to further their personal and political agenda. What is said in the morning is often changed by lunchtime. As a result, even the better informed are starting to get lost in what is true and what is not. I wish that we could steer away from all the spin, the leaked documents and so on and so forth. I also wish that politicians would stop thinking about themselves first, their party second and their country last. For me, politicians' motto should be: Think of our country first, our party second and ourselves last.

Brexit: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
19th March 2018, Queen Elizabeth II Centre
More info and tickets: brexitshouldistayorshouldigo.com

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