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BREXIT

No-deal Brexit: Brits in Europe furious over EU’s new contingency plan

The European Commission published its contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday and asked member states to take a "generous approach" to securing the rights of UK citizens living in their countries.

No-deal Brexit: Brits in Europe furious over EU's new contingency plan
Photo: AFP

The EU Commission, just like the British government, is ramping up its preparations for the growing possibility that Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal.

Although a Withdrawal Deal has been agreed between London and Brussels it still appears unlikely that British Prime Minister Theresa May will have enough backing in the UK parliament to ratify the agreement.

MPs are not set to vote on the deal until January which means both sides are rapidly stepping up their contingency plans for a no-deal, an event both Brussels and London are still keen to avoid.

On the crucial subject of citizens rights the Commission has decided not to take action as a bloc but instead urge individual EU countries to take steps that would allow UK citizens to stay and give them time to apply for the relevant visa.

But campaigners for Britons in Europe say the EU's decision to leave the issue of citizens rights up to individual countries shows that the millions of EU citizens in the UK and the one million Brits in Europe have been “abandoned”.

'The UK will leave the EU in 100 days time'

They are particularly angry that Brits in the EU will not benefit from any transition period if there's a no-deal.

Jane Golding, Co-Chair of British in Europe said: ‘We are appalled to learn that, while aviation and financial services merit an extension of current agreements in the case of no deal, people do not.

“This means that there will be no soft landing for over 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent who will have to adjust to life as third-country nationals overnight once all their EU rights have been stripped from them.”

The EU Commission said on Wednesday: “The United Kingdom will leave the European Union in 100 days’ time.

“Given the continued uncertainty in the UK surrounding the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, as agreed between the EU and the UK on 25 November 2018 – and last week’s call by the European Council (Article 50) to intensify preparedness work at all levels and for all outcomes – the European Commission has today started implementing its “no-deal” Contingency Action Plan.”

“Today’s Communication invites Member States to take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens in the EU, provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK,” read a statement.

“In particular, Member States should take measures to ensure that UK citizens legally residing in the EU on the date of withdrawal will continue to be considered legal residents. Member States should adopt a pragmatic approach to granting temporary 2 residence status.

“It is recalled that the Commission has already adopted a proposal for a Regulation which exempts UK nationals from visa requirements, provided that all EU citizens are equally exempt from UK visa requirements.

“As regards social security coordination, the Commission considers it necessary that Member States take all possible steps to ensure legal certainty and to protect the rights acquired by EU27 citizens and UK nationals who exercised their right to free movement before 30 March 2019.”

The Commission also released a Q&A that covered the issue of citizens' rights.

It says EU countries should “stand ready to issue residence permits to UK nationals” and “take all measures to be able to issue those permits by the withdrawal date and to process applications for definitive residence permits by the end of 2019.”

Reacting to the plan British in Europe's Jane Golding added: “In practical terms with only 100 days to go, the Commission is merely asking the EU 27 to make sure we can still be considered legally resident on 30 March 2019 and stand ready to issue documents to provide evidence of that.

“This will be a massive and overwhelming task in some countries. After that, the EU 27 would then be asked to process applications for permanent third country national documents by the end of 2019.”

'Anxiety levels rising'

Golding said the Commission's plan was proof that British citizens will have to fend for themselves if there is a no-deal.

“With the spectre of no deal rising again, so are people’s anxiety levels and it is wrong that citizens’ rights were not guaranteed at the outset,” she said.

“Now British citizens have a been given a clear message that if there is no deal they are on their own, abandoned by the UK government and the EU. This is a far cry from the negotiators’ promises that we would be able to live our lives as before.”


Photo: AFP

Kalba Meadows from the Remain in France Together (RIFT) told The Local: “They're kicking the entire citizens' rights can across to individual member states, which is going to lead to widespread differences in treatment of British people living in different countries because residence rights for third country nationals is a mixture of shared and national competence.

“When the negotiations began, citizens' were the “first priority” for the Commission. Now we're just 'a' priority, and not a very high one at that.

“The only light in the tunnel is that France is well ahead with its own no deal contingency planning and has shown itself to be genuinely concerned to protect the rights of British residents, although obviously that is contingent on the UK's treatment of French citizens living there.

“All of this shows why a ring fenced citizens' rights agreement is so desperately important.”

Local Europe has reported in recent weeks the preparations certain EU countries are making for a no-deal Brexit.

In France French MPs have just voted through a bill that will allow the government to take emergency measures that would effectively allow Britons already in France to continue to stand work or be retired.

A similar move has been taken in Germany  and Sweden has also been stepping up its own contingency measures to prepare for a no-deal.

Member comments

  1. Calm down, this hysteria just frightens people. There is not going to be mass deportation of Brits from EU Member States. Yes, things are going to change, possibly to what existed before FOM and we will have to ‘regularise’ our status. But we still lived easily then and we will continue do so after next March.
    Don’t get caught up in politicians’ silly mind games!

  2. I absolutely agree.
    Non French have lived happily in France for decades without any special EU type deal

  3. Two wise and helpful comments – there is too much synthetic anger around all this and it frightens the more nervous of the horses!

  4. Most things maybe..but where are the guarantees from April 2019 for our continued CPAM cover and therefore our mutuel? Fully private healthcare is impossibly expensive and would make life impossible.

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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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