Brit visits Copenhagen on Brexit fact-finding mission

The Local caught up with British expat Rebecca Sumner Smith when she stopped in the Danish capital as part of her mission to speak to fellow Brits across the EU.

Brit visits Copenhagen on Brexit fact-finding mission
Rebecca Sumner Smith plans to visit the 27 other EU countries before next month's referendum. Photo: Submitted
With the Brexit referendum firmly in many British expats’ minds at the moment, one British woman, Rebecca Sumner Smith, 35, has set about finding out more about how life really is for Brits living in Europe.
Based in Berlin, she plans to travel to every EU country before the referendum in the UK to talk to an expat in every location about their lives there and how they feel the Brexit could affect them. She write about her travels on her We The EU blog.
It is estimated 5.5 million Brits currently live overseas, and of those around one to two million live in the EU. Sumner Smith has already been to 15 countries including Greece, Czech Republic and Malta.
Last week she arrived in Denmark to find out what life is like here for British expats.
“When I started the project, I wasn’t sure where I stood on the Brexit issue and I wanted to educate myself more about it by sharing perspectives with other expats living in Europe. But as time went on the project evolved into something more than that,” she told The Local.
“Increasingly I saw there was so much information about the actual referendum and the issues surrounding it but less about the real people and places in Europe. I think it has now evolved into something other than what I first intended, as the meeting with Brits in each country and writing about the countries themselves have really become the main focus,” she added. 
So what has she found out so far?  
“So much, especially about the recent history of Europe, and how lucky we are in the UK to be an island with stable borders and no recent land wars. Every country has its own character, but everywhere the issues are the same — the refugee crisis, the need for employment that pays a decent wage and the pressure on housing (especially in capital cities) caused by increasing urbanisation,” she said. 
“The Brits I have met have been a real mix of those who have learnt the local language and those who have not, those who have integrated and not, and they have held views right across the political spectrum. The majority are living better lives than they think they could live in the UK, even if that isn't the reason they originally moved,” Sumner Smith added. 
As soon as Sumner Smith arrived in Copenhagen she experienced the honest nature of Danes when she left her mobile phone behind in the airport's baggage reclaim area. After realising 45 minutes later she thought there was no chance of finding it. With help from security, she was able to get back inside. 
“I had absolutely no hope that I would get it back, which was devastating as all the photos from the trip so far are on it.  Unbelievably, a Danish woman had found it and was still in the hall waiting for her baggage, so was able to return it to me immediately. I was so grateful,” she said.
“After that, arriving Copenhagen was a bit of a rush and we dashed to get a locker for our luggage before meeting Melanie, our interviewee. The first locker we found had the number 23-06 — the date of the referendum – I knew Copenhagen was going to be interesting!”
To read more about Rebecca and We The Eu visit her website.

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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.”