OPINION: It’s time to ring-fence citizens rights before Brexit

As the clock ticks down to Brexit, Britain and the EU should now consider ensuring an agreement on reciprocal citizenship rights, regardless of whether a framework for trade and the broader relationship is reached, argues academic Michaela Benson.

OPINION: It's time to ring-fence citizens rights before Brexit
Photo: AFP
“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.

No-deal Brexit: What France's draft law means for Brits in FrancePhoto: AFP

“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 said, “seasonal workers will be hit hard” by any agreement.
“Younger, itinerant people will find themselves not covered,” said 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.
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,” said 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.

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‘We’ve found a solution’: Denmark extends deadline for post-Brexit residency

The Danish government announced on Monday that British nationals, who had missed a previous deadline to secure their post-Brexit residency status, will now have until the end of 2023 to apply or resubmit their late application.

'We've found a solution': Denmark extends deadline for post-Brexit residency

After the UK left the EU, Britons resident in Denmark before the end of 2020 were required to apply to extend their residence status in Denmark and receive a Danish residence card under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

A significant number of British residents – at least 350, according to official figures released at the beginning of this year – did not apply before the original deadline of December 31st, 2021, however.

Many were subsequently given orders to leave Denmark and Danish immigration authorities came in for much criticism from rights groups representing Britons in Europe, who accused them of not correctly applying the rules of the Withdrawal Agreement.

But on Monday the Danish government announced that the initial deadline will now be extended until the end of 2023.

This extended deadline will apply to all British citizens who applied after the original deadline and whose applications were subsequently not processed.

Brits who had moved to Denmark before the end of 2020 but never submitted an application to extend their Danish residency after Brexit will also have until the end of this year to submit an application, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration said.

A major complication with the original application deadline was an error relating to information letters sent out by the authority that processes the applications, the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI).

The information letters, sent in 2020, were intended to inform all British nationals living in Denmark of the need to apply for their residence status in Denmark to be continued after Brexit. But an error at the agency resulted in most people who moved from the UK to Denmark in 2020 not receiving the information mails.

The Local has previously reported on individual Britons who faced having to leave homes, jobs and loved ones in Denmark over the issue.


“I am very pleased we have found this solution,” Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek said in the statement.

“It has always been the government’s intention to make it easy and smooth for resident British nationals to stay in Denmark. There are some people who didn’t apply on time and we want to give them an extra chance,” he said.

Mads Fuglede, immigration spokesperson with coalition partner the Liberals (Venstre), said that “In light of Brexit, we decided in parliament that it should not harm British residents of Denmark that the United Kingdom is no longer part of the EU. I am therefore also pleased we have found a solution for the Britons who did not apply on time”.

All British residents of Denmark applying within the new deadline are still required to be eligible for ongoing residence in Denmark under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, meaning they legally took up residence in Denmark under the EU’s free movement provisions prior to the UK’s exit from the EU. This does not represent any change to the rules under the earlier deadline.

British residents who must now submit applications by the new deadline should be aware of the distinction between an earlier application being rejected, with it not being processed.

In general, late applications under the old deadline were not processed, unless SIRI deemed there to be special circumstances justifying the late submission. In these cases, SIRI informed the applicant that their application could not be processed, citing the missed deadline as the reason for this.

Persons whose applications were processed but were rejected because they did not meet the criteria for ongoing residence under the Withdrawal Agreement will not be given the chance to reapply, the ministry said.

People who moved to Denmark after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, 2020 are still subject to general Danish immigration rules for third-country nationals.

The deadline extension will require a legal amendment which will be sent into the hearing phase of parliamentary procedure “as soon as possible”, the ministry said in the statement.