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BREXIT

‘No-deal now a likely scenario’: Brits in EU fearful after Brexit deal rejected again

Lawmakers in London rejected Theresa May's Brexit deal for a third time on Friday, leading to a fall in value of the pound, the EU declaring an emergency summit and Brits around Europe increasingly worried about the likelihood of a no-deal exit.

'No-deal now a likely scenario': Brits in EU fearful after Brexit deal rejected again
Theresa May ponders a third defeat to her Brexit deal. Photo: AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May lost the latest vote on her withdrawal agreement by 58 votes, a narrower margin than previous shattering defeats but a body blow nevertheless to her much-maligned Brexit plan.

The result of the vote means that at present Britain are heading out of Europe on April 12th – the extended deadline agreed between London and Brussels – unless the prime minister can come up with a plan B that satisfies Europe's 27 member states.

In that case the EU and Britain would have to agree to a longer extension which would likely mean the UK taking part in the elections for the European Parliament in May.

The increased likelihood of a no-deal sent the level of the pound falling on Friday as it ducked below the $1.30 mark for the first time since March 11th.

That meant bad news for all those retired Brits living in the EU who rely on their pensions to live. Currency experts say the level of the pound is unlikely to rise again until the Brexit conundrum is solved.

'It's a tough ride for Brits in Europe'

After the vote Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, called an emergency summit for April 10th, two days before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Britons in the EU will now be extremely concerned that the deadlock in Westminster could lead to the UK crashing out of Europe without a deal, which would lead to their rights being severely restricted.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Remain in France Together said: “Nobody can be complacent about the risk of no deal though, as a long extension needs two things: a roadmap from the UK, and the unanimous agreement of all the EU27 heads of states.”

“It's a tough ride for Brits in Europe, as it is for all the 5 million, who are conflicted between needing certainty about our rights and not wanting to see a damaging Brexit.

“Parliament has to come up with an alternative that it can get behind. So the next key day will be Monday when we should get a sense of whether there's any hope of that happening,” said Meadows.

The EU said this week that its no-deal preparations were complete and individual EU states have all been passing laws to allow Britons to continue to stay and to give them time to register.

After the vote on Friday the EU commission said: “A “no-deal” scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario. The EU has been preparing for this since December 2017 and is now fully prepared for a “no-deal” scenario at midnight on 12 April. The EU will remain united.”

And the French presidency said Friday that a vote by British lawmakers to reject Prime Minister Theresa May's EU divorce deal for a third time “increased very strongly the chances of a no deal exit”.

“The United Kingdom needs to urgently present an alternative plan in the next few days. Failing this, and it is becoming the most likely (outcome), we will see the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal,” read a statement issued by the presidential palace.

'End our uncertainty now!'

Nevertheless the campaign to have the citizens' rights aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement ring-fenced have so far failed to achieve success with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier suggesting it was a “distraction” this week.

British in Europe's co-chair Jane Golding told The Local on Friday that MPs must now end the uncertainty for the 1.3million Britons in Europe.

“Yesterday, Michel Barnier said that ring-fencing 5 million people’s citizens’ rights in the event of a no deal Brexit was a ‘distraction’ from securing a withdrawal agreement,” said Golding.

“Today’s House of Commons should give him and the EU 27 urgent pause for thought.”

“Since landing slots and Dover tailbacks get the most ‘No deal’ attention, we are happy to dress up as planes and haulage trucks if it gets the EU 27 to focus on real people and the nightmare that a crashing out Brexit poses for us.

“Once again we call on the EU and the UK to ringfence the hard won citizens' rights part of the withdrawal agreement now, before all the good work ends up in the bin and it's too late to take real people's lives' off the negotiating table.”

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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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