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BREXIT

UK moves towards Brexit delay as MPs vote to rule out a no-deal exit

The House of Commons twice rejected a no-deal in different votes on Wednesday, but PM Theresa May warned that a no-deal exit remains the default legal option and gave MPs a final ultimatum to back her much-maligned deal or face a lengthy delay to Brexit.

UK moves towards Brexit delay as MPs vote to rule out a no-deal exit
Graphic: The Local.

The sinuous logic of the Brexit process continued to manifest itself in the UK parliament on March 13th as British MPs voted to reject leaving the EU without a deal by 43 MPs. The motion does not however guarantee that anybody can say goodbye to a no-deal.

“The legal default in UK and EU law remains that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed. The onus on everybody in this house is to find out what that is,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May in reaction to the defeat.

The options are the same, added PM May: vote for her deal, hold a second referendum (which would “damage the fragile trust between the British public and this house” or negotiate a new deal, which she acknowledges the EU is reluctant to do. She has lost her voice and again sounds like she swallowed all 500+ pages of her deal.

May signalled that she would put her deal – already defeated in two previous votes – before the House of Commons for a third time next week, in the hope that Conservative rebels and her DUP allies will finally get behind it given the threat of a lengthy delay to Brexit.

If MPs did back her deal then she would seek a short extension of Article 50 until June, May hinted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as other EU leaders have hinted that the EU could approve an extension. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, has said he would prefer that an extension end before the May 23rd European parliamentary elections. 

A debate and vote on whether the UK should now seek an extension will be held on Thursday March 14th. 

The motion set next Wednesday March 20th as a deadline to vote on the current deal. The final scheduled EU summit before the UK's currently-scheduled departure from the EU (March 29th) is on March 21st-22nd.

UK MPs may have rejected a no-deal exit, but European leaders and EU officials are upping their preparations for such a scenario. 

“We, the Spanish people, are ready for any scenario, with or without a deal,” Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez wrote in an editorial in the Madrid-based daily El Pais. 

In his sanguine editorial, PM Sanchez added: “It is impossible to understand Brexit without taking into account the conjunction of three factors. A nationalism that advocates the withdrawal from the exaltation of myths and false nostalgia, the advance of the extreme right and the simplification of democracy around the figure of the referendum as a tool from which to offer simple answers to complex problems. 

British in Italy, part of the British in Europe coalition, summed up the feeling among 1.2 million frustrated UK nationals living in Europe who fear losing key rights related to healthcare, residency, work, the right to remain and to move. 

“An unresolved Gordian Brexit knot”; “uncertainty still remains” – “this domestic politics mess is unparalleled”. To catch up on all the reactions from Europe tonight and from last night, have a browse through our live blogs from the last two days. 

READ ALSO: RECAP: UK parliament votes to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances

READ ALSO: RECAP: 'We've taken a step further into uncertainty on our rights': UK nationals in EU react to May's defeat

 

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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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