FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - Expatriate Britons gathered in Florence on Friday to voice their frustration at how Brexit will impact them, awaiting the British prime minister’s arrival in the Italian city to set out her vision for future ties with the European Union.
May will try to rescue the stalled talks over terms for Britain’s exit from the EU in a speech that will be scrutinised to see if she can offer enough to EU negotiators to persuade them to move forward.
Outside an imposing 14th century church in the centre of the Tuscan city, protesters waved EU flags and posters showing May holding a burning passport. They called for the rights of British citizens living in other EU countries to be protected.
Rachel Pugh, a 48-year-old from north Wales who has lived in Florence since 1991, said she was worried about losing her rights to a pension in the future and had been left uninformed by the British government.
“Who do we ask? The tooth fairy? Father Christmas? The Easter Bunny? Who can we trust? None of them,” she said, sporting EU and Welsh flags on her lapel. “We couldn’t vote. We’re invisible, in limbo.”
Negotiations, which began three months ago, have effectively reached an impasse over the divorce, including the issue of how much Britain will have to pay to unspool more than 40 years of economic and political integration in the EU.
Immigration was a key issue ahead of the June 2016 EU referendum in Britain, and millions who have moved smoothly between Britain and the rest of Europe are waiting nervously to see how their lives may change.
Civil rights campaigner and former British member of parliament Roger Casale said he had come to Florence to show solidarity with all those who would be affected.
“We think the EU should be setting an example and should give unilateral guarantees now to all Brits in Europe,” he said.
Citing media reports that British trade minister Liam Fox had described EU citizens living in Britain as possible “bargaining chips”, Casale said May had “a hostile environment strategy vis a vis immigration, leaving people in a state of uncertainty”.
Britain is keen to start negotiating the terms of its new relationship with the bloc, and discontent over the slow progress and lack of clarity is also surfacing among voters.
Visiting Florence on holiday, Malcolm Burley, a 70-year-old retired plumber from Leicestershire in central England, said he had voted to leave the EU and wanted a deal to be reached quickly.
“(May) needs to go and get it sorted as soon as possible. Time is running out,” Burley said. “We need to get it sorted and make sure we get the correct deal for England.”
Additional reporting by William James; editing by Mark Heinrich