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BREXIT

Pensions and healthcare: UK offers assurances to Brits in EU over no-deal Brexit

The British government spelled out on Thursday what it would do to protect the rights of British citizens living in the EU in the event that the UK crashed out of the union without a deal, including those who were forced to return home.

Pensions and healthcare: UK offers assurances to Brits in EU over no-deal Brexit
Photo: AFP

The policy paper spells out some of the measures that would be taken to protect the citizens' rights of EU nationals living in Britain and those of Britons living throughout the EU if there was a no-deal Brexit.

However the government insists that the only way the rights of Britons can really be protected is if the deal is ratified.

“The Withdrawal Agreement is the only way the UK government can guarantee the rights of the one million UK nationals living in the EU,” says the document.

The British government has called on EU member states to uphold their commitments to protect the rights of Britons living in their countries, whom they want to be able to stay and enjoy the same rights and protections as when Britain was part of the EU.

But the government accepts that depends on London acting first.

“That is why the UK has taken steps to remove any ambiguity and provide complete reassurance for EU citizens in the UK. We ask that the EU and Member States do the same for our nationals,” reads the policy paper.

“We have always been clear that we highly value the contributions EU citizens make to the social, economic and cultural fabric of the UK and that we want them to stay in the UK.

“To remove any ambiguity, the UK Government guarantees that EU citizens resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and we will take the necessary steps to protect their rights even in a unlikely ‘no deal’ scenario.”

This should be positive news for Britons living in the EU. For example the French government has stated it will protect the rights of Britons in France based on what is in the withdrawal agreement, but only if London acted and gave guarantees to French nationals in London.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Reman in Farnce Together Campaign groups told The Local: “We very much hope that this confirmation that the UK intends to effectively honour the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement if there's no deal will be enough for France to go ahead and do the same.”

Pensions and healthcare

The paper contains some pledges that will be important to Britons living throughout the EU, notably those who are retired.

“Where it is in our control, the UK will also continue to preserve certain rights of UK nationals in the EU, for example by continuing to pay an uprated UK state pension to eligible UK nationals living in the EU.”

And if British nationals found they could no longer continue their lives in the EU and were forced to return home then the government said it would “consider” rather than guarantee certain measures.

On the subject of health and voting the government said: “We understand that access to healthcare is vital and can confirm that UK nationals who returned to the UK permanently in a ‘no deal’ scenario would have access to NHS-funded healthcare on the same basis as UK nationals already living here. They would also be able to register to vote in local and national elections.

And on the issue of returning with family members who are not British nationals:

“We understand the right to bring EU and non-EU citizen family members is an important concern. The Government is considering the support that could be offered and will set out further details in due course,” reads the paper.

And if people have to return to the UK?

And when it comes to accessing vital benefits and housing, the government says it is considering how best to act to support returning UK nationals.

“We recognise that an issue raised by UK nationals is their ability to access to benefits and housing quickly on return to the UK. Arrangements will be made to ensure continuity of payments for those who return and are already in receipt of UK state pension or other UK benefits while living in the EU.

“We are considering how support could be offered to returning UK nationals where new claims are made and will set out further details in due course. UK nationals will continue to be able to access education in the UK,” the paper says. 

British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “A lot of people have asked us what would happen if they felt they had to return to the UK after Brexit. So it's reassuring to read that the UK would ensure immediate access to health care and benefits, as that's been a huge concern.”

Reciprocal agreements need to be made

But the British government accepts that in the case of no deal, much depends on reciprocal agreements so no matter what London offers to EU citizens, Brits in the EU still need their adopted countries to agree to put the same measures in place especially when it comes to healthcare and benefits.

“Aspects of the reciprocal healthcare and social security coordination section of the Withdrawal Agreement require reciprocity from the EU or individual Member States and cannot be protected unilaterally,” the document said.

“We are exploring options to protect past social security contributions, made in the EU and the UK, and reciprocal healthcare arrangements in the unlikely event of a 'no deal' scenario. We are in the early stages of discussions and will announce further details of such options prior to our exit to allow citizens to make appropriate arrangements.”

Meadows said: “This should reassure a lot of British pensioners living in France as well as those who've worked both in France and the UK and whose contributions would be aggregated.”

The UK wants is citizens to be able to carry on standing and voting in local elections in the countries where they live and so says it will guarantee that EU nationals will be able to vote in local elections in the UK.

One line in the policy paper that did anger campaigners was the government's claim that they have “engaged extensively with UK nationals in the EU over the last two years.”

British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “Although we have met with officials at Department for Exiting the EU, we at British in Europe have been trying continuously to meet with the Secretary of State for that department and have never had been invited to do so.

“We've also requested meetings with Theresa May on several occasions and our requests have simply not been acted on. We would very much like to have had the opportunity to present the concerns of the 1.2 million Brits in the EU to both of these directly – and indeed we still would.”

You can read the full policy paper by clicking here.

 

 

Member comments

  1. No deal is the default position, and the only one with Royal Assent. What is bad is that Theresa May has not made proper provision for it and wasted over 30 months chasing pie-in-the-sky ‘deals’ of her own design, to suit Brussels and against the wishes of the UK voters. If she fails to convince Parliament of her unrealistic wishes, the UK will leave the EU in March 2019 poorly prepared.

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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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