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AVIATION

Could flights between the UK and EU really be grounded after Brexit?

The British Chancellor on Wednesday raised the possibility that a 'no deal' Brexit scenario could ground flights between the UK and other European countries.

Could flights between the UK and EU really be grounded after Brexit?
An aeroplane interior. File photo: TT

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the British government was preparing for all eventualities, and that included a 'no deal' scenario in which event, he said, it was “theoretically conceivable” that the day after Brexit, “there will be no air traffic moving between the UK and the European Union”.

Flights to a further 17 countries, including Norway, Switzerland and the US, would also be at risk in this case, as their aviation agreements with the UK are currently arranged through the EU.

Hammond added that he did not think “anyone seriously believes” this would occur, but said the government would invest in and plan for a “realistic worst-case scenario”. The speech was given to the UK's Treasury Select Committee, and was one of the first comments from a British government ministers about possible scenarios for March 29th 2019.

Within the EU, any airline is allowed to fly between any two EU airports if there is an available slot, under the EU's Single Aviation Market.

Once the UK leaves the EU, therefore, it will need to establish an entirely new treaty in order to continue flights not only to the 27 EU countries, but also to 17 other countries whose air services agreements with the UK are arranged through the UK's membership of the EU.

The EU accounts for 54 percent of scheduled commercial flights from the UK, and the 17 other countries for a further 31 percent, according to figures from the British Airport Operators Association (AOA).

But even if the UK is unable to reach a formal agreement with the EU before leaving the bloc, Hammond said “mutual self-interest” made it likely that a new arrangement on flying rights would be made. 

A spokesperson from the International Airlines Group, the parent company of airlines including British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, told The Local: “We're confident that a comprehensive air transport agreement between the EU and the UK will be reached. It's in Europe's interest to have a fully liberalized aviation agreement. 900 million travellers each year have benefitted from open skies in Europe. That not only benefits customers but creates jobs and wealth across the continent.”

The Chief Executive of the British Airport Operators Association (AOA) Karen Dee said in a statement that she “welcomed” Hammond's recognition of the importance on an aviation deal.

“International aviation connectivity will be the foundation upon which a truly global Britain is built, enabling the UK's trade in goods and services as well as supporting tourism,” said Dee. “The Chancellor is right that we will need a new legal framework the day after Brexit to ensure continuity of air services. The AOA believes this is well understood on both sides of the negotiations.”

The UK pilots' union BALPA had said on Tuesday that the British aviation sector would be “devastated by a Brexit 'no deal'”.

BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said: “Unlike most other sectors there are no World Trade Organisation or any other rules to fall back on for aviation if there is no deal.”

“UK airlines could find they have to stop flying – it's that serious. And this would impact passengers long before March 2019 because airlines couldn't sell advance tickets and, frankly, would passengers risk buying them?” said Strutton, calling on the government to work on a post-Brexit plan for aviation.

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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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