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BREXIT

Britain and EU set out competing Brexit delay dates

Prime Minister Theresa May asked the European Union on Friday to delay Britain's departure until June 30 while Brussels suggested that it might be best to postpone the split for up to a year.

Britain and EU set out competing Brexit delay dates
European Council President Donald Tusk during a debate last month in Strasbourg. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP
EU leaders also reacted sceptically, saying that there had to be a strong justification for any further delay. 
 
The competing visions of how to unwind Britain's 46-year EU membership will be hashed out again at a summit in Brussels on Wednesday.
 
Strong resistance is likely against May's plan, which would involve Britain planning for European elections on May 23 but then not actually holding them.
 
The current Brexit deadline of April 12 has already been pushed back once from March 29 because of the UK parliament's repeated failure to back the deal May signed with the other 27 EU leaders in December.
 
May's formal request to EU Council president Donald Tusk said Britain thinks the delay “should end on June 30 2019” — the same date she asked for and was refused at the last EU summit last month. 
 
“If the parties are able to ratify (the withdrawal agreement by) this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated earlier,” May wrote in a letter released by Downing Street.
 
A senior EU official said that Tusk's own idea for a “flexible” 12-month extension “will be presented to member states today [Friday, ed.]”.
 
But a source in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said it was “premature” to consider the request without “a clear plan” from May about what she intended to do with the extra time.
 
France's Europe Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said: “Another extension requires that the UK puts forward a plan with a clear and credible political backing.
 
“In the absence of such a plan we would have to acknowledge that the UK chose to leave the EU in a disorderly manner,” she said.
 
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said May still had “many questions” to clarify.
 
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte — seen as one of May's closer European allies — also said the letter “doesn't answer” important concerns.
 
'Political cover'
 
May said Britain would start preparing for European Parliament elections in case it is still a member of the bloc when they begin on May 23.   The idea is deeply unpopular with Britons who voted to quit the EU and chart their own future in a 2016 referendum whose arguments are still being waged to this day.
 
Political analysts in London said May probably knew that her new deadline will be rejected because EU leaders do not think she can get her deal through parliament any time soon. May is under intense pressure from the right wing of her Conservative Party to pull Britain out of the bloc as soon as possible — with or without a deal.
 
“I think that Theresa May is looking for political cover because she is asking for an extension she knows she can't get,” said King's College European politics professor Anand Menon. 
 
She wants Brussels to “force her to do something else so that at least she won't get accused of selling out.”
 
'Fight to save Brexit'
 
Britain and the other 27 EU nations must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension. Some EU leaders fear that Britain's participation in the European Parliament vote will help boost the standing of anti-EU parties due to their popularity among Brexit-backing Britons.
 
UK far-right leader Nigel Farage called on his supporters Friday to vote for his Brexit Party in the European election.
 
“The fightback to save Brexit has begun,” Farage tweeted.
 
Breakthrough unlikely
 
May's team is currently negotiating with leaders from the main opposition Labour Party in a bid to find a compromise that can pass parliament in the coming days. But the talks do not appear to be going well.
 
“We are disappointed that the government has not offered real change or compromise,” a Labour Party spokesperson told reporters. “We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in parliament and bring the country together.”
 
May's letter said the talks' failure would likely see the two parties jointly produce several options that would be put up for a series of parliamentary votes.
 
Labour is pushing May to accept a much closer post-Brexit alliance with the bloc that includes its participation in a customs union. May had previously dismissed the idea because it bars Britain from striking its own trade deals with global giants such as China and the United States.
 
By AFP's Dmitry Zaks
 

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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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