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BREXIT

‘Ring-fencing citizens’ rights should be a serious consideration in case of no-deal Brexit’

As the clock ticks down to Brexit, the subject of citizens' rights is becoming an increasingly crucial subject for Brits in Europe.

'Ring-fencing citizens' rights should be a serious consideration in case of no-deal Brexit'
Anti-Brexit demonstrators march through London. Photo: AP Photo/Rui Vieira
“There have been suggestions that citizenship rights should be ring-fenced. This should be a serious consideration in case of a no-deal Brexit,” Michaela Benson, a professor at Goldsmiths University in the UK and a sociologist investigating British communities in Europe, told The Local.
 
The text agreed on in March this year by the UK and the EU, known as the Withdrawal Agreement, was widely derided at the time for its watering down of citizenship rights, in particular the loss of freedom of movement for British citizens in the EU post-Brexit.
 
Jane Golding, chair of grassroots rights group British in Europe, noted at the time that Cheddar cheese could end up having more rights than British citizens.
 
Fast forward seven months and Brits in the EU and member state citizens in the UK – between 5 and 6 million people – have more to fear in what the British government continues to call “the unlikely scenario” of a no-deal Brexit.
 
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There were more than 27,000 British-born people living in Sweden in 2017. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

“If the Withdrawal Agreement is ripped up, British citizens would overnight find themselves as third country nationals. That is why it is vital they demonstrate lawful residency now,” Benson told The Local.
 
As third party nationals they would come under the jurisdiction of the domestic migration governance regime and their migration would no longer be governed by EU law.
 
In such a scenario, “it would be surprising if Brits as migrants were not subjected to visas,” said Benson, “a much more complicated system.” It is also unlikely that Brits would then be afforded any special terms as third party nationals – besides those applying for specialist visas (investment, talent, student, IT etc) – as there is no legally binding mechanism for such preferential treatment.
 
Many Brits are racing to gain dual citizenship in their host state, or to amass the right paperwork. But as Benson notes, “seasonal workers will be hit hard” by any agreement.
 
“Younger, itinerant people will find themselves not covered,” added Benson.
 
The Withdrawal Agreement entitles settled Brits who can prove five years of lawful residency in a host state to a residency card and at least another five years of residency in that country beyond the transition period. But the agreement so far on citizenship rights is dependent on the EU and the UK reaching a broader agreement on trade, regulation, the Irish border and many more issues.
 
In a letter last month to the EU and UK negotiating teams, British in Europe and the 3 Million pleaded for citizenship rights to be ring-fenced.
 
 
Preparing for a no-deal Brexit: The personal matters you should take care of
Photo: Depositphotos
 
“You jointly have it within your powers to end this nightmare immediately for over 4 million of us, by taking the true moral high ground and publicly committing to honouring these agreements on our rights – whatever the outcome of the rest of the negotiations,” states the letter.
 
Given the generous proclamations that both sides have made vis-a-vis maintaining the rights of their negotiating counterpart's community, it would be farcical if some sort of arrangement were not reached. Theresa May last month in Salzburg pledged to protect the rights of the three million EU citizens in the UK, “deal or no deal.”
 
France's Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau told a meeting of French citizens in the UK that her country would remain “vigilant” of its citizens' rights.
 
“We will be your advocates to make them (residency conditions) as flexible, as simple and as inexpensive as the British have committed themselves to,” Loiseau told the gathering in London last month.
 
The UK's Ambassador to Spain Simon Manley called on Spain to reciprocate the offer. “We hope the Spanish government will offer a guarantee like we have done,” Manley told reporters early last week, according to Spanish daily La Vanguardia.
 
“There is a difference between saying things about British citizens and actually reaching out to them,” said Benson, noting that many EU states are yet to publish any guidelines for resident UK citizens.
 
“The French government has told Brits to apply for a carte de séjour and devolved instructions to councils to issues them to British citizens. The Netherlands have also been quite proactive,” Benson told The Local.
 

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her Swedish counterpart Stefan Löfven. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
 
Guidelines updated last week by the Dutch government encourage Brits to apply for an EU residence card, although this will expire on March 29th . “You may continue to live and work in the Netherlands after Brexit. But, this is not certain because there is no definitive agreement yet,” note those guidelines.
 
In many states though, a wait-and-see attitude still prevails – primarily because most countries need to know whether the Withdrawal Agreement governing future rights of citizens will take shape after March 29th or not. “We haven't got any further on the outstanding issues. There is no solution to freedom of movement yet,” said Benson.
 
“The headline is still that there needs to be clear guidelines issued to British citizens and governments need to continue to issue those guidelines.”
 
If an agreement is reached, it could effectively create a two-tier status for Brits vis-a-vis their rights to settle in Europe.
 
“There is also the issue of how British citizens who have not yet exercised their treaty rights to freedom of movement will be treated in the future,” clarified Brexit Brits Abroad's Benson. “Citizenship rights discussions are purely about people who have already moved.”
 
Earlier this year, Benson co-authored a report on the challenges of getting a good deal for British citizens in Europe.
 
As one official cited in Next Steps: How to get a good Brexit deal for British citizens living in the EU-27 states: “We still do not know what the rules will be in the end, so we cannot answer the questions very concretely.”
 
That report highlighted the difficulties many Brits could face, especially in countries where registration is not mandatory, to prove lawful residence if EU countries enact “retrospective as supposed to prospective” requirements for residency post-Brexit.
 
Are you a Brit living in Sweden? Email [email protected] to share your story.

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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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