How to lobby the Lords on the Brexit bill

You know how to lobby on something going through the House of Commons, right? You write to your MP. But how do you do that for the House of Lords? After all, you have a named MP who represents you and your local area in the Commons, but peers don’t have constituencies – and there are over 800 of them!

And lobbying the Lords matters because MPs (well, 494 of them) have just given the green light to the “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill”. That’s the law that gives the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, kick-starting Britain’s exit from the EU. Having passed the Commons, the bill must now pass through the Lords.

So, how do you lobby the Lords?

Well, we have two ideas about how you can do it. But first, let us emphasise how important it is to lobby members of the House of Lords. No party has a majority there. The largest party – the Conservatives – has fewer than one in three of the seats. Around one in four seats (200 or so) are held by Crossbench or non-affiliated peers, meaning they don’t belong to any party group. In essence, the bill can’t easily be whipped through unamended like it was in the Commons.

The first way to lobby a peer is by using the excellent WriteToThem.com website. This is the site where you just need to input your postcode and you can easily email your MP and all the other people you help elect.

But there is also part of the site that facilitates writing to members of the House of Lords. Here’s the link: https://www.writetothem.com/lords. We suggest scrolling down and clicking on the button, “Get a Random Lord”. That takes you to a page where you can write your message to a randomly-selected peer.

And what’s good about the Lords is that whilst you can only write to your sole local MP, if you are especially enthusiastic you can send messages to several randomly-selected peers. Just keep clicking on the button, although it does limit you to sending messages to up to six peers per day.

Oh, and by the way, why not consider donating to mySociety, the people behind WriteToThem.com? The option to donate is on each page of the site. They provide a great service, free to use.

The other idea we have is to use the list of peers who have already put down their names to speak. The Government Whips’ Office in the House of Lords maintains a list of peers who want to speak in any debate. If you go to http://www.lordswhips.org.uk/speakers-lists/20022017 and scroll down to the debate on Monday 20 February you should see the list (currently standing at 166 peers) of those who want to speak in the debate on the Brexit bill. Why not send a message to some of them? You can find the contact details of individual peers at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/

Some peers do not provide their direct email address on that system, preferably to use contactholmember@parliament.uk. You can use that to email those peers, but only to a maximum of six per day. Emailing a peer who has shared their personal email address is probably a better bet as it shows they are open to receiving messages from the public.

One other thing though – if everyone starts with the names at the top of that list of 166 peers then the ones further down the list won’t hear from anyone. Pick someone at random from the list and contact them.

We are not going to give a model or template letter or email text because politicians can see them a mile off and they have much less impact than something that comes personally from the individual writing to them.

Our advice would first & foremost to be polite and not to write something too long; they will be getting a lot of correspondence on this, and simplicity and brevity are your friend. If you want them to vote down the bill, tell them. If you want them to vote in favour of amendments that will keep us in the Single Market, that will maintain free movement, that will protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK or UK nationals living in the EU post-Brexit, or amendments that commit the Government to honour the £350m per week extra for the NHS pledge made by the Leave campaign during the referendum campaign, tell them.

If you have any personal experience that’s relevant to your point – maybe you are an EU national worried about your right to stay in Britain, or a young person studying a foreign language at university who fears that their right to live and work in the EU country of your choice is going to be snatched away – put it in there. Highlighting the real world consequences on people’s lives of what’s happening will always have an impact.

We have been pushing for UK nationals to be given the freedom to opt in to some kind of citizenship or associate citizenship of the European Union, should Brexit go ahead. If you support that, and want the Government to be open to it, tell them about it and ask for their support. Ask them to raise it as an issue on the floor of the House of Lords, to ask ministers about it.

If you think about it, it’s easy to write your own unique letter to a peer. It’s not quite as easy as copying & pasting what someone else has written, but – believe me – it is worth the effort.

Feel free to share your messages in the comments section if you would like, and indeed the replies you get. Let’s see if we can have more luck with the Lords than we did with the Commons.

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

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We’re writing to Guy Verhofstadt. Want to sign our letter too?

We’ve drafted a letter (below) that we’re going to be sending to Guy Verhofstadt, the Liberal MEP who will be the European Parliament’s chief negotiator in the Brexit talks.

Mr Verhofstadt has made it clear that he will ensure the idea of associate EU citizenship for Brits will be on the negotiating table. You can read about it in this article from the Independent.

Would you like to sign the letter too? If you do, click on this link and leave your details. Do it before the end of Wednesday 14th December (by which we mean 11.59pm) and we’ll add your details before we pop it into the post on Thursday. Please don’t leave your details as a comment. To make sure we have your consent, we will only use the name of people who apply using the link. Here’s that link again. Thank you.

Dear Mr Verhofstadt

I am writing to thank you for speaking up for the 48% of people who voted ‘Remain’ in the UK’s referendum on our European Union membership. Since 23rd June, our voices have been ignored by a government that is just not listening.

We were asked whether we wanted to remain EU citizens. Over 16 million of us said that we did. But we are all set to be stripped of that status nonetheless.

It is this impending loss of our EU citizenship that many of us feel so deeply. We will lose, at a stroke, the right to travel, live, study, work, retire, and set up a business with the minimum of bureaucratic fuss and bother in any of 27 other EU member states. But it is more than that. Many of us feel European – right down into our bones. We will feel this loss very strongly indeed.

It is fantastic therefore that you have now placed on the negotiating table the idea of offering pro-European Brits continuing associate EU citizenship. In recent days, even those who want to leave have conceded that this should be something they accept – as it would not stop Brexit and it would be entirely voluntary, meaning those who do not wish to take part do not have to do so. Reportedly, Number 10 is also potentially open to it.

I say thanks also to your Liberal colleague, Charles Goerens, whose amendment was instrumental in getting this onto the agenda in Brussels.

I do hope that this is an idea that can make progress, and thank you for your efforts to ensure that the voices of over 16 million pro-Europeans are heard in these negotiations.

Yours sincerely

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25% off great new #Brexit book

I’ve just finished reading this great book about Brexit by a journalist called Ian Dunt, who’s the editor of politics.co.uk. And I’ve got a discount code for it that’ll save you 25% off the cover price.

The book, called “Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?”, comes recommended by Green MP Caroline Lucas. Journalist Nick Cohen calls it “admirably brief and necessarily brutal… Highly recommended.” I found it so compelling that I read it in one go.

To get your 25% off, go to THIS page. When you get to the payment bit, type in the coupon/discount code: PASSPORT

For every copy sold, the publishers will also donate £1 to this campaign. We’ve got plans for 2017, and this will help us a lot (without costing you an extra penny!).

This offer is limited to 200 orders and the code is valid until 15th December. Thank you!

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We need to lobby our MEPs on EU citizenship.

Wow – what a response! In the middle of last month, I set up this blog and wrote its first post. It set out a simple idea: that if Brexit happens, individual pro-EU Brits who don’t want to leave should be free to take out European citizenship directly with the EU.

I tweeted a link and shared it on Facebook. And boom! Within a few days it had been read by more than 100,000 people, and over 16,000 have now signed up to support the idea (click HERE to join them). Over 500 people have left positive comments on the blog post, and I’ve had many messages of support on social media too.

I’ve been working hard to get the word out. Most recently, I wrote a piece for this week’s The New European; you can read that HERE. I’ve also started the job of getting the message out amongst our fellow Europeans too; here’s a link to a post I wrote for an English-language Swedish news site.

But here’s the real game-changer. A Liberal MEP from Luxembourg called Charles Goerens is pushing the idea in the European Parliament. He’s written a piece for the Independent setting out some of the detail. This could really be happening…

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Before we get too excited, there are lots of hurdles that this idea must clear. Lots. But, importantly, it is no longer just an idea on a blog. The ball is rolling – and getting it rolling is always the hardest part.

It’s important right now that we, as pro-Europeans, contact our representatives. We need to show them that there are lots of people who don’t want to have their European citizenship revoked. And what is being proposed here is a positive way to ensure that it isn’t.

What we all need to do now – right now – is contact our MEPs. This is really important. Below is all the information you need about how to contact them, detail about the amendment that Charles Goerens MEP is proposing, and the text of what I am sending to my MEPs.

First of all, don’t worry if you don’t know who represents you in the European Parliament. You can use the WriteToThem website. It’s free, and all you have to do is input your postcode. You will have several MEPs, and they all represent you. That’s because groups of MEPs collectively represent large areas of the UK (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the regions of England), rather than you just having one constituency MEP. You can send them messages individually, using WriteToThem, or click on a link to send them all the same message in one go. And remember – it’s simple and free.

The European Parliament’s UK website also lists all the UK’s MEPs and their contact details. You just need to know which part of the UK you live in.

So, that’s who represents you. What should you be saying to them? The report we are emailing MEPs about is currently before the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO). It is in the name of Guy Verhofstadt MEP and its reference is 2014/2248(INI). The specific amendment is in the name of Charles Goerens MEP, and is number 882. Below is a screenshot of the amendment, and here is a link to a .pdf of proposed amendments to the report (search for “882” to get to the one we want).

charles-goerens-mep-amendment-882-eu-associate-citizenship

And here is what I have sent to my MEPs:

Dear …

Re: support for amendment 882 to AFCO report 2014/2248(INI).

I am writing to you in support of a proposal that is currently before the European Parliament. Specifically, I support amendment 882, in the name of Charles Goerens MEP, to Constitutional Affairs Committee report 2014/2248(INI). This amendment would give nationals of countries that have left the European Union the freedom to choose whether or not to take out associate citizenship of the EU directly, as individuals.

This has obvious implications for UK nationals given that the UK Government plans shortly to begin the process of leaving the EU.

This amendment does not in any way seek to frustrate the process of exit. If approved, there would be no requirement to participate on those who want no part of the EU. It forces nothing on anyone. What it would do however is allow those who value their EU citizenship the freedom to maintain it, at least on an “associate citizenship” basis.

The amendment is currently before the Constitutional Affairs Committee; if passed there, it will come before all MEPs. I support this idea, and I ask you to vote for it and to encourage other MEPs in your political group to do the same.

I would welcome your response, and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Feel free to use that text, or modify it. I think it’s short, simple and clear. Please do share MEPs’ responses. It is useful to know what they are planning to do when this comes to a vote.

And share a link to this blog post on your social media too – there are lots of buttons at the end to help you do that. Email it to friends who might sympathise. And remember – this idea would not force anything on anyone. If a person doesn’t like the EU, they wouldn’t have to apply for citizenship. But what it does do is give choice to those who want to keep it.

Thanks for your support.

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Want to keep your EU passport? Here’s how.

I’m angry. I’m angry because I’m about to be stripped of my EU citizenship. I was asked if I wanted to keep it. I said I did. But it’s being torn from my hands nonetheless. But I’ve got an idea…

There will come a moment, on a date we don’t yet know, when as the clocks strike 12 the UK will tumble out of the European Union. At a stroke, tens of millions of Brits will lose the right to live, work, study and retire with the minimum of fuss across 27 other European countries. It will be a meaningful, tangible and instant loss of opportunity and freedom – one forced on 60+ million people by the 17 million who voted Leave on 23rd June.

But the sense of foreboding loss that I feel goes deeper than simply losing the legal right to go grey in Gran Canaria. To many of us our European citizenship is as important as our British citizenship (for some, even more so). We’re proud of it. It stands for something important – a belief that as a continent we’re better and stronger together, not broken up, bickering and Balkanised. We’ve tried that before; it doesn’t end well.

Some of my friends and people I work with are lucky. The good fortune of having a father born in Ireland means one can clamber aboard the shamrock lifeboat. Another has been able to claim German citizenship. Another, Cypriot.

Whilst they get to keep the burgundy passport – the ticket to being able to move freely across pretty much the entire continent and to continued citizenship of a noble project – the rest of us await our fate.

But do we have to? Do we have to just accept our lot? I don’t think we do. Let me explain.

Right now, EU citizens are only EU citizens because they’re citizens of the United Kingdom, or Germany, or France, or of one or other EU Member State. So, it’s an inconvenient and unwelcome fact that when the UK ceases to be an EU country, we cease to be EU citizens.

It’s also a fact that more people voted Leave than Remain. We can point out that it was a narrow victory (51.9% to 48.1%) and that the Leave case was a pack of lies abandoned almost instantly by anyone with anything to do with it. But nonetheless the UK Government can claim a mandate to negotiate the UK’s exit from the bloc.

You see the problem? Under current rules, those of us who value being EU citizens have to lose out for Brexit to happen.

But there is a way to square this circle. The EU could allow individuals to become citizens of it directly. They could decouple EU citizenship from citizenship of an EU Member State. Initially at least it could be a special case, only applying to citizens of a departing member.

And it would be ‘opt in’. You’d have to apply. Maybe you’d have to pass a citizenship test, demonstrating knowledge of Europe and the EU. Perhaps you’d have to make a public declaration of support for the EU.

By doing this, British pro-Europeans can maintain their EU citizenship, whilst the anti-Europeans can shake it off. The UK gets to leave; we get to stay. We’re still British citizens. We continue to live (most of us) here in the UK. We simply become British/EU dual nationals with one of these in our pocket…

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Nothing is taken away from those who voted Leave. They get what they wanted – a UK exit from the EU. They can even take us out of the Single Market and the customs union, if they want to completely trash the economy.

It gives something to those who want it, without taking anything from those who don’t.

But why would the rest of the EU offer us this? Well, with the UK exiting, the EU will shrink. The idea of the European Union might be seen by some as on the wane. That it’s an idea that’s had its day. But it’s not. And having Brits queuing up to take out EU citizenship – waving EU passports for the TV cameras like Apple Store customers on the day a new iPhone model is released – would inject some much-needed ‘va va voom’ back into the idea of the EU.

If they needed a little extra inducement, what if every new British/EU dual national paid a subscription fee, the equivalent of what we’re currently paying for EU membership through our taxes?

Last year, the UK’s contribution to the EU was £17.8bn gross; £12.9bn post-rebate; and £8.5bn net (after one knocks off all the money we get back for things like farm subsidies). I am using a House of Commons Library briefing paper as a source here. The Office for National Statistics estimates that the population of the UK last year was 65,110,000. So, in 2015, we each paid an average of £22.78 (gross), £16.51 (post-rebate), and £10.88 (net) per calendar month to belong to the EU. Take your pick. It’s freedom of movement meets Netflix.

So, there it is. There’s my idea. I think it works. I think it’s a neat way to square a circle that lets the UK Government implement the result of the referendum, enables British pro-Europeans to keep their citizenship of the most successful peace project in history, whilst providing the EU with a little pep at a time when it needs it.

You with me? I hope so because I want to see if this idea can fly. The first thing we need to do is find out if there’s support for this. I think there is. When I asked on Facebook and Twitter, there seemed to be.

So, what I am asking is this – if you support me, if you want to keep that burgundy passport and continue to sashay through the EU passport channel then sign up to support the idea here. Please also leave a comment below. We’ll see how much support there is and take it from there.

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