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BREXIT

‘As a proud Swede and Brit, I say no to isolation’

I'm proud to be British and Swedish and worry that UK isolationism will damage both my homes, says journalist Jasmine Andersson.

'As a proud Swede and Brit, I say no to isolation'
Prime ministers David Cameron and Stefan Löfven at a bilateral meeting in Riga last year. Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/TT

When I was about five years old, my Dad would spend his evenings poring over a tome of tiny text. A Swede born in Gothenburg, he was studying for his British citizenship exams. Even though he was incredibly proud of his heritage, he saw the exam as a necessary evil in order to give the family security.

Now the EU referendum is about to take place, I am no longer concerned about the rights to my British identity – I care about the rights to my Swedish one.

Britain may be an island, but there are 2.9 million people like me who share their homes between two EU countries. They, like me, are of dual heritage, and identify with both of the countries they come from. My British and Swedish identities are in constant conversation, forming a series of events, memories and values, and they are inseparable from each other. 

I am half-Swedish. I share my father’s love of anything coated in lingonberry, and remember how I felt when I took a pilgrimage to visit my granddad’s grave in Gothenburg for the first time. When I visit Sweden, I am just visiting another country I call home. It’s personal, it’s inextricable, and leaving the EU places me in a position where I am supposed to see it as a baffling puzzle to be solved. 

I saw myself moving to Sweden in my later years, joining my sister and the rest of my family to embrace a country that has such a progressive attitude towards women, the family, education, and its treatment of the elderly. Yet thanks to Brexit, it might not happen. With Europe Minister David Lidington saying that “everything we take for granted about access to the single market will be put into disrepute”, my rights to live in my other country are dubiously put on hold.

Like most EU workers in the UK, I never needed to obtain my Swedish passport because the EU gave me the same rights to travel, work and study in Sweden as one of its citizens. Although current expats — like my sister, who lives and works in Stockholm – are protected, I would need to move to Sweden within the next fortnight to ensure that I could stay under the wing of EU law.

People like my sister face the worry of ‘legal limbo’, uncertain of their rights to live, work, travel and access healthcare as expats. Her company could end up paying extortionate sponsorship fees to keep her in the country, and she would fork out hundreds of pounds to pay for a frustratingly unnecessary and anachronistic citizenship test. 

Growing concerns also indicate that Sweden faces the loss of billions in trade, and its key voting partner in the EU. According to Pew Research, nine out of ten people surveyed in Sweden believe that the UK leaving would hurt the EU, and more than half believe that Sweden would be affected as a consequence. As firm non-euro friends, Swedes and the UK are said to have voted 89% the same way on EU policy.

If Sweden lost one of its closest allies, the country could be placed in an equally precarious position, suffering economic collateral damage at the hands of the Vote Leave stalwarts.

I am proud of the places where I come from, and I don’t want to see either of them suffer under a misguided notion of isolation. EU policy allowed me to live a life true to my identity, and I don’t want to be placed in the impossible position of having to choose.

Britain and Sweden are countries built on the wealth of cultural diversity. With 1.3 million British expats declared unable to vote in the referendum, Britain is ignoring the people who have benefited from EU policy the most. I wonder how people like them, and people like me will suffer when they watch their continent play while they sit on the substitutes bench.

As ‘foreignness’ is hijacked by a racist agenda, I consider myself oddly lucky to be part of a cultural heritage that is still fondly regarded in Britain. If we leave the EU, I wonder how long it will take for those politics of hate to push people out.

Jasmine Andersson is a freelance journalist who has written about politics and youth culture for publications including The Guardian and The Independent.

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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