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BREXIT

Defeat for rights of Britons wanting to return from EU in future

A proposal to protect the family rights of British people in Europe returning to the UK has been voted down in the UK parliament.

Defeat for rights of Britons wanting to return from EU in future
Brits may be 'locked out' of the UK if their EU partner can't meet income requirements. Photo: AFP

While British people who move to live within the EU before December 31st 2020 are protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, this doesn't cover family reunification rights if they want to return to the UK.

So if British people now living in the EU and married to an EU national want at some point to return to the UK, their EU spouse will be subject to the UK's strict new immigration rules.

READ ALSO What is the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and does it cover me?

 

These include language and income requirements and mean that some British people face having to make a choice between their family in the UK and their European partner or spouse – those who return to the UK to care for family members for example may struggle to meet income requirements.

The citizens' rights group British in Europe has been supporting an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would allow Britons established in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period to maintain the right to return to the UK with their European family members without them being subject to strict immigration rules and means tests.

However the amendment was defeated by a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

A spokesman for British in Europe said: “We are of course disappointed by the result, and appreciated the support of all the peers who spoke up for us and especially Baroness Hamwee, who put the arguments so well and the amendment to a vote again.

“Obviously the government recognises the unfairness of this change, otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to a grace period at all, although a three-year grace period that starts before the rules have changed is a nonsense!

“We simply don’t understand why the rules could not remain unchanged for a finite group of people for a finite and fair period and only for pre-existing family members as we asked.

“But this is also a wider issue about the fairness generally of the minimum income requirement for all those affected and we are very glad that Baroness Hamwee alluded to that too.”

Unlike most new Brexit rules, which come into force at the end of the transition period on January 1st 2020, the new immigration rules for the EU family members of British people living in the EU have a grace period – they will not come into effect until March 2022.

It means that many British people living in the EU, especially those with ageing family members back in the UK, may now need to have serious conversations about where they see their long-term future.

Although the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement gives many guarantees for people to be able to stay in the country they are currently living in, it doesn't cover any onwards moves to another EU country and it in effect 'locks out' many Britons from returning to the UK, unless their EU partners can fit the new immigration criteria.

READ ALSO 'Doors will close for Brits in the EU' – why the UK's immigration proposals sparked alarm

 

 

 

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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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