‘Guarantee our rights now’: British in Europe call on London to act as fears of no-deal Brexit grow

Campaigners for the rights of Brits living in France and around the EU say "enough is enough" and are demanding the British government and Brussels to take steps to guarantee the rights of UK citizens in Europe after Brexit, as the alarming prospect of a no-deal divorce grows.

'Guarantee our rights now': British in Europe call on London to act as fears of no-deal Brexit grow
Photo: Depositphotos

The campaign group British in Europe, which represents the estimated 1.2 million Brits across the EU, including 150,000 in France have written to the UK's Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

The campaigners are demanding the two sides end the “extreme legal uncertainty” and the subsequent stress and anxiety for the three million EU nationals living in Britain and the 1.2 million Brits across the EU by guaranteeing the agreements on citizens' rights drawn up by the two sides last December.

“Enough is enough, we need legal certainty now, and we ask you to do the right thing by providing it,” says British in Europe and the organisation “the3million”, which represents EU nationals in the UK.

Those agreements gave EU nationals in Britain and Brits in the UK the right to stay in the country where they now live, but they are threatened by the growing prospect that Britain and the EU will not reach an overall deal before the deadline for looming Brexit negotiations.

Those agreements on citizen rights which were thrashed out last year will stand for nothing if Britain and the EU continue to be at loggerheads over their future trading relationship and cannot reach an agreement on how to solve the problem of the Irish border.

But British in Europe and “the3million” say the current situation cannot go on and is taking its toll on Brits living across the EU.

“Today, the3million and British in Europe are asking you to commit to implementing and strengthening your current agreement on citizens’ rights, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

“We have faced over two years of debilitating uncertainty and anxiety about our status, and are horrified that all the months of negotiations and colour-coded charts on our rights could come to nothing in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“You jointly have it within your powers to end this nightmare immediately for over 4 million of us, by taking the true moral high ground and publicly committing to honouring these agreements on our rights – whatever the outcome of the rest of the negotiations.

“We thus now ask you to take citizens out of the 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed' straitjacket.”

Those citizens' rights agreement not only gave guarantees that Brits will be able to stay in France or Spain but also that the health costs of pensioners will also be covered by the British government and that their pensions would continue to rise each year.

Although the agreement did not allow for continued freedom of movement across the EU, much to the anger of campaigners.

“What we are urgently calling for is a simple, obvious solution – namely that the EU and the UK jointly agree to ringfence and commit to implement the Citizens’ Rights part of the draft Withdrawal Agreement in all circumstances, even if it is the only aspect to be agreed,” read the letter. 

“The3million and British in Europe have been asking for such ringfencing since March 2017, and have provided serious legal opinion on the possibility of achieving this.5 We know it can be done if there is the political will to protect us.”

The Local is asking Brits in France to tell their own stories of how the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and all the uncertainty around Brexit is impacting their lives.

Please email [email protected] if you would like to tell your own story.

CLICK HERE to read the full version of the letter.

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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.”