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BREXIT

Time to turn Brexit speeches into treaties, EU chief Juncker tells Theresa May

Britain must "translate speeches into treaties" and come up with a detailed plan for its post-Brexit ties with the EU, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday.

Time to turn Brexit speeches into treaties, EU chief Juncker tells Theresa May

EU leaders have been pressing British Prime Minister Theresa May to clarify what she wants before they agree their position on the future economic
partnership at a summit later this month.

A series of speeches by May and her senior ministers have done little to satisfy Brussels, and Juncker warned it was particularly crucial for London to
clarify its plans for the sensitive issue of the Irish border.

Heckled by eurosceptic British MEPs while he was speaking, Juncker told them a time would come when “you will regret your decision” to leave the bloc.

“As the clock counts down with one year to go, it is now time to translate speeches into treaties, to turn commitments into agreements, broad suggestions and wishes on the future relationship into specific workable solutions,” Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

He said it was “especially important” that Britain comes up with concrete proposals for the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is staying in the EU.

Both Britain and the EU have vowed to avoid the return of customs checks to the border and an interim deal in December left some flexibility on the issue, but an EU text putting the agreement into law has sparked a fresh row with London.


Irish border 'a European issue'

The draft EU text published last month says Northern Ireland must stay in a customs union with the rest of the bloc if no better way is found to avoid a hard Irish border — which Britain rejects.

Juncker told MEPs the draft text simply translated the December accord into legal language and “should not come as a shock”.

And the former Luxembourg PM warned London the EU institutions and member states stood squarely in support of Ireland on the issue.

“For us this is not an Irish issue, it is a European issue. It is all for one and one for all — that is what it means to be part of this union,” he said.

EU Council President Donald Tusk warned last week that the Irish border issue must be solved before negotiations can move on to other issues.

Britain hopes to begin talks on the future trading relationship with Brussels next month, and May set out her proposals for a new wide-ranging free
trade agreement in a speech on March 2.

In the speech May suggested Britain would commit to keeping some EU regulations and standards while reserving the option to diverge in others.

The bloc has repeatedly dismissed such an idea as “cherry-picking” and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier once again rejected on Tuesday.

“It's a rather surprising idea to think the EU 27… could accept convergence when the UK wants it and at the same time leave the possibility
for divergence where there is a comparative advantage to be had,” Barnier told MEPs.

He also dismissed British suggestions they could take part in EU agencies after Brexit without submitting to rulings by the European Court of Justice.

EU 'open for business'

The European Parliament — which will have the final veto on any Brexit deal — will vote on Wednesday on a proposal to offer Britain an “association
agreement” which it says would be broader than a trade deal.

The agreement would be based around four “pillars” — trade, foreign policy and security cooperation, internal security and “thematic” cooperation, which includes education and research programmes.

The European Parliament's Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said talks he held with May and her Brexit minister David Davis last week had left him
confident London would “see the advantages of such an approach”.

An association agreement would give “a vision, an architecture” to post-Brexit relations and avoid a repetition of the complex web of individual
agreements the EU has with Switzerland.

Barnier meanwhile said a whole range of options for third-country cooperation were on the table — the EU has previously cited trade deals of the type it has with Canada and South Korea.

“We are open for business. It's the UK that is closing doors,” Barnier said.

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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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