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BREXIT

Brits in Europe hold breath with MPs set to vote on Theresa May’s ‘improved’ deal

Lawmakers in London were set to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal on Tuesday a day after she said she had secured a new and improved deal to leave the EU. Britons across Europe will be waiting anxiously and will have mixed feelings about whether they want the deal to pass.

Brits in Europe hold breath with MPs set to vote on Theresa May's 'improved' deal
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday she has secured “legally binding” guarantees from the EU designed to get the Brexit deal through the British parliament and avert a chaotic withdrawal.

She announced the move after a late evening dash to Strasbourg to hammer out the changes with top European officials, as the clock ticked down to Britain's scheduled divorce from the bloc on March 29th.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the stakes were increasingly high, ahead of a vote by British lawmakers on the deal on Tuesday.

“The choice is clear: it is this deal, or Brexit may not happen at all. Let's bring the UK's withdrawal to an orderly end,” the former Luxembourg premier told reporters, sitting next to May at a late-night press conference in the French city.

“There will be no third chance.”

The three-part package of changes effectively aims to resolve a key sticking point for British MPs over the so-called backstop plan to keep open the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

“Today we have secured legal changes,” May told reporters after the talks with Juncker and the European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.”

UK lawmakers will study the new proposals before holding a vote on the divorce deal Tuesday, with just 17 days remaining before Britain's planned split from the bloc after 46 years.

Britain's House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated the deal in January and was expected to do so again on Tuesday without meaningful change.

However on Tuesday the signs for Theresa May were not good as Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox published his legal advice on the new deal.

Cox concluded that the new guarantees do reduce the risk of Britain being stuck in the so-called Northern Ireland backstop – which would keep the UK in a customs union – if the EU acts in bad faith.

But he added that if trade talks simply drag on because the two sides cannot reach an agreement then Britain would not have a way out of the backstop. 

And as a result of that legal advice, the pound fell.

'Incompetence or contempt?'

Another defeat in parliament could see Britain sever ties with its closest trading partner on March 29th with no new arrangements, causing huge disruption on both sides of the Channel.

It would also raise the possibility of postponing Brexit, after May promised to allow MPs a vote later this week on whether to accept a “no deal” scenario or request a short delay from the EU.

Juncker said he recommended the deal to the EU Council, which represents member states, and that Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was prepared to back the changes on the backstop.

Brexit-supporting MPs reacted cautiously to news of the agreement, but said they wanted to examine the detail.

“We will certainly analyze that very, very carefully,” said Nigel Dodds of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), part of May's coalition government.

The DUP's support is crucial if the deal is to pass the House of Commons.

May's trip to Strasbourg caused concern among some MPs, who had complained they may not have enough time to scrutinize what May agreed before being asked to vote.

“Is this incompetence or is this just contempt for parliament?” said opposition Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

'Harder to leave the backstop'

May's initial deal was struck after 18 months of tough negotiations, and covers Britain's financial settlement, expatriate rights, the Irish border and plans for a transition period.

But MPs rejected it in January by a massive 432 votes to 202, with many of May's Conservatives rebelling against her.

The Commons later sent her back to renegotiate the backstop.

This would keep Britain in the EU customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way — such as a trade deal — is found to avoid frontier checks.

Juncker said May and he have agreed a “legal instrument” to ease British concerns over the backstop.

Many MPs fear it is a “trap” to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral exit clause.

“It is harder to leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU,” claimed Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, an influential Brexiteer.

May has promised Britain will leave the EU whatever happens on March 29th, but many MPs fear that a “no deal” exit would wreak economic havoc.

In the face of a cabinet revolt, she promised that if her deal is defeated again then MPs will vote on “no deal” on Wednesday and then on Thursday, on delaying Brexit.

Any postponement would have to be approved by the leaders of the other 27 nations, who are next meeting at a Brussel's summit on March 21st and 22nd — a week before Brexit day.

Nigel Farage, who spearheaded the campaign that led to Britons voting in the June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, held firm. 

“This is all words and twisted meanings. Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” Farage tweeted.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party also came out against the agreement.

“This evening's agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised parliament,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Member comments

  1. We now suspect that Theresa May is not merely an idiot, or simply pigheaded to the max, but actually was BOUGHT and PAID FOR from the very beginning, to create the disaster of a Hard Brexit, because her puppeteers (the same ones who engineered the original social-media /brainwashed / manipulated referendum) WANT chaos, since that will bring THEM their Ultimate Tory and “Libertarian” Billionaire “investment opportunities.” (Never mind massive suffering caused to others. Sociopaths don’t care, do you?”)

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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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