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Brits in Brussels say farewell to EU at candlelit vigil outside embassy

22:07 01/01/2021

Several dozen Brits in Brussels braved the cold and rain for a candelit vigil on New Year's Eve to mark the end of the Brexit transition period.

Wearing EU-flag facemasks, the group gathered opposite the British Embassy on Avenue d'Auderghem for speeches, a minute's silence and renditions of Ode to Joy and Auld Lang Syne.

The event was the initiative of the Brexit and the Belgian Brits (Babbs) group on Facebook, which was created in 2017 as a support network and now has 1,500 members.

"It's a very sad evening," said organiser Emma Woodford. "We're here to mourn, to come together in this wonderfully typically Belgian weather."

Participant Jez Thomas said he was "sad and disappointed that it's come to this".

He added: "We are mourning the loss of our rights that we had as British people, the loss of freedom of movement, the loss of the ability to retire to another country other than Belgium or the UK."

Babbs is currently fundraising for a documentary film on the impact of Brexit on individuals' lives.

The film's producer Anny Tubbs told The Bulletin: "The Brits who are living in Europe and who came here for love, work, studies, spontaneously and always thinking they'd be free to move between countries, back and forth, suddenly find that their wings have been clipped.

"I got a text telling me my English bank account was closing, my professional credentials were suddenly being put back in question after 25 years as a lawyer, with nobody really explaining anything."

The Belgian interior ministry has written to every British citizen on the population register, with details of the practical steps they should take to obtain the new "M card" securing their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.

All UK nationals and their family members will have to apply for the special new status at the commune where they reside. This can be done anytime between 1 January and 31 December 2021, but the interior ministry recommends you apply as soon as possible in the new year.

Top photos: Kerrana McAvoy. Last photo: Kate Havrlik

Written by The Bulletin