Brexit: Campaigners take fight for rights of Brits in France to MPs in London

Campaigners representing the 1.3 million British nationals in the EU including 150,000 in France will air their growing Brexit concerns in front of MPs in London on Wednesday. A loss of freedom of movement and the problems of Britons in France having to register after Brexit are top of their list of concerns.

Brexit: Campaigners take fight for rights of Brits in France to MPs in London

Campaigners from British in Europe (BiE) including representatives from Remain in France Together (RIFT) group headed to London on Wednesday to air their growing Brexit concerns in front of MPs.

They will give evidence to the MPs in the Exiting the EU parliamentary select committee in Westminster and will argue that the future rights of the 1.3 million British citizens living in the EU are still up in the air, even after last December's withdrawal agreement between the London and Brussels. (You can watch the evidence Live via this link from around 10.15 am French time).

“UK nationals living on the continent are still in a holding pattern with no clear landing path in sight,” said British in Europe chair Jane Golding.

Chief among their concerns is the future rights to freedom of movement across the EU that is crucial for many of the 1.3 million Brits living in the EU.

Under the current withdrawal agreement Brits living in France for example will have the right to stay, work and receive healthcare, but not to travel freely and work in other EU countries or even just across borders.

According to British in Europe, 58 percent of their 35,000 members rely on freedom of movement for their livelihoods and 80 percent of the 1.3 million Britons in the EU are of working age.

“Theresa May must ask her EU27 counterparts to include free movement in the withdrawal agreement now if she is serous about her commitment to putting people at the heart of the Brexit negotiations,” Golding said.

“To date we have seen more energy spent on discussing the post-Brexit movement of rights of jam than of people,” said Golding.

Another issue campaigners will raise with MPs is the prospect of Brits settled in France having to register or re-register with French authorities after Brexit.

The UK has said it will create a new kind of “settled status” that the 3 million EU residents in the UK will have to apply for after Brexit.

That means EU countries may force the same measure on British nationals living in their countries. This prospect is causing concern in France – a country that has not required British nationals to register up to now and where most have no experience of dealing with French authorities.

The prospect is a particular worry for the retired Brits as well as well as those who are self-employed on low incomes or rely on benefits

Kalba Meadows, coordinator of the Remain in France Together Group said: “If British people living in France are required to reapply for the legal right to remain without any existing register of British people in France, this will rely on Brits understanding the system, knowing that they have to apply and being aware of how to do it.”

RIFT is currently urging the 150,000 to apply for a carte de séjour residency permit, which they believe will help ease any paperwork problems after Brexit (see link below).

“If the draft withdrawal agreement is eventually ratified, it includes the agreement that holders of a carte de séjour will be able to swap them for whatever new special residency card may be required for Britons in future with only production of ID and a criminality check,” Debra Archer from RIFT tells The Local.

“There will be no fee involved. There are at least 150,000 British people living in France, probably more, so there could be long delays in dealing with applications for cards in future.

“Applying now will spread the load and ensure a smooth transition to whatever new system is introduced to document our rights to stay in France.”

So far only 15,000 are thought to have applied for one.

If you are a member of RIFT you can get 50% off the price of membership for The Local France – (meaning €0.99/month for first three months). Email [email protected] for special discount code.

READ ALSO: Why Brits in France should apply for a carte de séjour right now

Brexit: Why Brits in France should apply for a carte de séjour right now

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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.”