SHARE
COPY LINK

BREXIT

EU piles pressure on Theresa May by granting UK short Brexit delay

After hours of uncertainty, divisions and deliberation, the European Council agreed to extend Brexit Day until May 22nd, but only if the deal is approved by the UK parliament. If not then the Theresa May has until April 12th to come up with a new plan or take the UK out of Europe without a deal.

EU piles pressure on Theresa May by granting UK short Brexit delay
EU Commission President Juncker (L) and European Council President Tusk (R) speak during a press conference at the European Summit on March 21st 2019, in Brussels. Photo: Aris Oikonomou/AFP

There will be no Brexit for at least April 12th – just under three weeks. 

The EU unanimously agreed at the European Council summit in Brussels to approve a short extension to Article 50, albeit with distinct conditions.

Theresa May had requested an extension up until June 30th but EU leaders granted one until May 22nd if the framework for future cooperation, known as the Withdrawal Agreement or 'the deal', is approved by the House of Commons next week.

According to Reuters news agency Emmanuel Macron told fellow EU leaders that May only has a five percent chance of winning the vote next week, after hearing the prime minister's speech on Thursday.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council said Macron was being optimistic.

If British Prime Minister Theresa May cannot find consent for her deal among MPs, she will once again have to take her begging bowl to Brussels to seek a further extension and offer a clear plan to move forward by April 12th. 

“The European Council agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council,” reads a statement by the EU Council issued late on the night of Thursday March 21st.

Theresa May' now has to convince some of the 149 MPs who voted against her exit deal just 10 days ago to vote for the same deal. 

The brief respite means the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29th as previously scheduled – although the specter of a no-deal scenario remains a distinct possibility given the UK parliament's inability to reach a compromise so far. 

“The European Council calls for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, taking into account all possible outcomes,” adds the EU Council's statement. 

The length of the extension was the subject of much discussion at the summit, with France and Belgium reportedly pushing for a May 7th Brexit Day, as supposed to May 22nd. The EU Council's decision to cut the period of extension requested by the UK government is designed to prevent the UK from having to hold EU parliamentary elections from May23rd to May 26th. 

French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that this was the last spin of the dice, warning that a no-deal scenario was the only alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement. “We have to be clear on Brexit, to ourselves, to our British friends and to our people. The Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated. If the UK votes negatively, we'll head towards a no-deal,” tweeted Macron. 

PM May will now attempt to get the same deal, which has been vehemently rejected so far by the UK lower house in two votes, approved by parliament next week. Rights activists representing the 1.2 million UK nationals in Europe and the 3.6 EU nationals in the UK are planning a March on Saturday in London. 

Meanwhile a petition to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit has reached nearly 2.5 million signatures in two days. 

READ ALSO: French president Macron warns of no-deal Brexit 'for sure' if British MPs reject May's deal

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

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.”

SHOW COMMENTS