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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?
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

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.”

Member comments

  1. Just FYI, the hyperlink in “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” won’t show up for me as a subscriber to TheLocal.fr. It says it requires a separate subscription to the Norway version of The Local. It would be lovely if you could fix that.

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BREXIT

Scores of Britons in Denmark may not have received Brexit residency letter

A large number of British nationals who moved to Denmark under EU rules in 2020 may not have received a reminder from Danish authorities to update their residence status ahead of a Brexit deadline, meaning many missed the deadline and could face having to leave.

Scores of Britons in Denmark may not have received Brexit residency letter

Are you a British national in Denmark facing a situation similar to the one described in this article? If so, you can contact us here — we’d like to hear from you.

British nationals who registered as resident in Denmark under EU rules in 2020 – the last year in which EU free movement was available to UK citizens – may not have been officially notified by Danish authorities’ alerts that they needed to apply for updated residence status by the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

That means that people who moved to Denmark from the UK in the year 2020 are more likely to have missed the deadline.

Those who had been living in Denmark before 2020 were much more likely to have received the official notification by Danish authorities.

The issue has potentially serious consequences: the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) is rejecting applications that were submitted late if the reason for late submission was that the applicant did not receive reminder letters in 2021.

As recently reported by The Local, Phil Russell, a 47-year-old financial services administrator who lives in the western part of Zealand, has received notice he must leave Denmark by early December after missing the deadline to apply for a post-Brexit residence permit.

SIRI sent reminders to UK nationals resident in Denmark to update their residence status under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement prior to a December 31st, 2021 deadline. But Russell did not receive the reminders and eventually discovered he had missed the deadline just four days into January 2022.

READ ALSO: Briton living in Denmark urges authorities to reverse his deportation order

Russell’s situation appears to be far from unique. The Local has spoken with several other UK nationals in Denmark who say they did not receive the information letters. All of the UK nationals moved to Denmark in 2019 or 2020 and all of them registered as resident in the country in 2020.

“I am also a British person in Denmark who did not receive any notifications or reminders regarding the need to apply for new paperwork by the deadline,” a reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Local via email.

“I tried to stay oriented to post-Brexit issues but have, to date, received no information regarding what is required of me post-Brexit and have never seen any of the ‘extensive ad campaigns’ which were apparently designed to inform people like me. I only became aware that I did not have the correct paperwork when leaving to visit the UK in June,” they said.

“I have called for updates regarding my application and have been told it is still being processed,” they said.

“It does seem unreasonable that a government agency is seemingly putting the responsibility on the resident to know of any changes that need to be made to government records, especially when SIRI has not contacted those who they are now seemingly penalising for applying late,” they said.

“I had not ever moved to a different country before this and I’ve certainly never needed to negotiate the complicated nature of Brexit before. I do not know what is normal or not when it comes to residency documents, so if something is required, I would expect to be contacted directly,” said the person, who was granted residency in Denmark in September 2020 under EU rules.

“I have felt failed by SIRI since I found out I had not been contacted at all, let alone three times. Had I known that I needed to reapply, I would have done so straight away,” they said, adding that they experience “daily anxiety knowing there is the possibility of my application being rejected due to its late submission”.

“If there has been a technical error on SIRI’s part, that they should not penalise residents for this,” they said.

READ ALSO: How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

Two other people, who both registered as resident in Denmark in 2020 under EU rules, also said they had not received SIRI’s information letters.

“While I received my new permit, I also did not receive the letters about renewing,” Danny Maiorca, who moved to Denmark in September 2020 and registered as a resident the following month, told The Local via email.

Maiorca said the only reason he knew to apply for the updated residence permit was by regularly checking SIRI’s website in 2021.

After initially moving to Denmark in 2019, Alex Stuart registered as a resident under EU rules in 2020. He told The Local he also had not received all of SIRI’s information letters in 2021 and had submitted his post-Brexit residence application after the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

“SIRI hasn’t said anything to me yet, just that they are reviewing my case. But now that I see what they are saying to others I expect my answer won’t be very different,” he said.

The Local has contacted SIRI on repeated occasions to ask whether its information letters failed to reach all persons from the UK who moved to Denmark in 2020. We also asked whether it made sense to revoke the residency status of persons who submitted late applications after not receiving the letters.

The agency has yet to provide an answer but said it intends to respond to our questions. We will update this article or publish a new one once we receive a response.

In an internal record from SIRI which has been seen by The Local, the agency concludes that its information letters were a “supplementary service and part of an information campaign.”

The letters were also available on the agency’s website.

Not receiving the letters was therefore not to be considered an extenuating circumstance in an appeal against a rejected, late application, the agency notes in the internal memo, dated March this year.

SIRI has previously confirmed that as of September 30th, it had received 290 applications for post-Brexit continued residency status after the December 31st, 2021 deadline. Some 17,811 applications were received before the deadline.

Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.

In a written comment, the British Embassy in Copenhagen said it “is aware that a number of UK nationals residing in Denmark submitted applications for residency after the relevant deadline.”

“The Embassy has been working closely with the Danish authorities on implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and regularising the stay of those UK nationals who have chosen to make Denmark their home,” it said.

British Ambassador to Denmark Emma Hopkins has requested a meeting with the Danish authorities to discuss the application of the rules to UK nationals, the embassy added.

A spokesperson from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said that “anyone who applied before the deadline [December 31st, 2021, ed.] will have their rights protected, even if their application has yet to conclude. The Danish authorities will accept late applications if there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.”

The Facebook group British in Denmark, which seeks to provide advice and support for UK nationals who live in Denmark, said that of the group’s 1,400 members, only two who moved to Denmark in 2020 have confirmed they received the SIRI information letters.

While some subsequently applied to update their residence status after the deadline, others were able to meet the deadline because they found out about it through the group or via their personal network, a spokesperson from the group said.

“The problem is that if they arrived in 2020, a lot of people didn’t have that network,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s been left up to the specific countries to decide how they’re going to deal with the late applications. So it’s not written in the Withdrawal Agreement,” she noted.

“Each country can interpret it as long as you’re complying with the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement,” she said.

The citizens’ rights section of the Withdrawal Agreement states that “where the deadline for submitting the application… is not respected by the persons concerned, the competent authorities shall assess all the circumstances and reasons for not respecting the deadline and shall allow those persons to submit an application within a reasonable further period of time if there are reasonable grounds for the failure to respect the deadline”.

The text of the agreement states that anyone living in an EU member state before the end of the transition period has the right to remain.

“In the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement, everyone was sent a letter. But the people of 2020 didn’t get a letter,” the British in Denmark spokesperson said.

“We really want as many late applicants as possible to join our group. We’ve got people together to provide support for each other and the late applicants who are in there have found it really, really useful,” she added.

“There are devastating potential consequences for them to be facing this alone with their families,” she said.

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