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BREXIT

Brexit will throw up endless hurdles for Britons in Europe, but we’ll be there to help

The impact of Brexit will probably be more of a dull pain felt over a long period – endless unexpected hurdles cropping up to test Britons living in Europe. Here at The Local we’ll be there to help, writes founder and CEO James Savage.

Brexit will throw up endless hurdles for Britons in Europe, but we'll be there to help
Photo: Fred Moon on Unsplash
Brexiteers like to see themselves as the enemy of bureaucrats, but in fact they have spawned a paradise for pen-pushers.
 
Four torrid years have passed since Britain voted to leave the EU.
 
And in a twist that would have been unimaginable on 2016, at the moment Britain heads definitively for the exit, Brexit is not even the country’s biggest concern.
 
Instead a horrendously infectious new variant of Covid-19 has sent much of Britain back into lockdown. A second consequence of the virus mutation is that the free movement of people, which was supposed to end for Brits at midnight on 31st December, has in some senses been suspended already.
 
Tales abound of Britons who were planning to use the last few days of 2020 to move to the EU, but who instead of starting a new life in Europe became stuck in Britain, perhaps permanently.
 
For Brits like me already settled in the EU, the past four and a half years have been gruelling. Promises that we would be allowed to stay came quickly; the small print took a lot longer, and many countries only got their residency schemes up and running in late 2020.
 
For all the British whining about the EU lumbering them with bureaucracy, we are now learning that EU membership was in fact a great liberator from pointless paperwork. British citizens and businesses wanting to get on with their lives are now at the mercy of faceless pen-pushing bureaucrats.
 
 
Still, many of us have submitted ourselves to the bureaucrats and secured our right to remain. Thousands of Britons have gone one step further and become citizens of the countries we live in, something that for many has been a positive experience, giving us a greater say and a greater stake in our new homes.
 
As the amateurish, chaotic management of Brexit has made some Europeans look on their British friends with pity, an EU passport has become a handy alibi as well as a useful travel document. But not every issue is solved: the rights of Britons to move back to the UK with partners or family members from the EU has been severely curtailed.
 
Many of us have planned our lives around the fact that we will be free to move backwards and forwards with partners and family members, but after March 2022, any Brit wanting to return with a non-British partner will need to earn £18,600 a year, and will have to earn even more for each non-British child. Around 40 percent of those Brits living in Europe who are likely to want to return are estimated by lobbying group British in Europe not to fulfil this criterion.
 
Many others will fall between the cracks: people who need onward freedom of movement – like those whose jobs involve them working in multiple EU countries – are not covered by the post-Brexit residency rules, which mostly just allow Brits to live and work in one country. Plenty of people who don't yet know they need onward freedom of movement will find out how useful it is when that job offer in another EU country comes up.
 
There are people whose lives have seen them going backwards and forwards between Britain and the EU, but if they happen to be living in Britain when the music stops they could be stuck there. And of course second home owners will in future  only be able to spend a limited time in their much-loved boltholes, unless they can navigate the thicket of rules and paperwork to secure the necessary visa to allow them to stay longer.
 
The exact details of the trade deal will take many weeks to read and interpret, but it is clear that some businesses face difficult times ahead. I was emailed this week by a large, well-known wine merchant in the UK that has for years delivered to the EU, informing me that it was not taking orders until February due to uncertainty over the new rules.
 
 
Countless other businesses, some dependent on EU-UK trade and many of them small family affairs, will be similarly affected.
 
It was apt that New Zealand’s word of the year for 2020 was ‘doomscrolling’, a word that describes our natural tendency to pay more attention to negative news. There has been a lot of it about, and it seems to be reaching a crescendo as the year draws to a close.
 
Everyone will have their own strategy for dealing with the endless stream of worry. I find the best way to cope with the onslaught is to take a step back, get practical and focus on solutions.
 
The pandemic is a massively complex challenge for our societies in the short term, and has caused untold heartache for millions.
 
But with a vaccine and the natural tendency for pandemics to burn themselves out, our societies will find a way to recover.
 
The impact of Brexit will probably be more of a dull pain felt over a longer period – endless unexpected hurdles cropping up to test us.
 
Here at The Local we’ll be there to help Britons find the workaround for every bureaucratic hurdle that governments put in our way.
 
James Savage is the CEO of The Local. You can follow him on Twitter @Savlocal

Member comments

  1. If only there was a definite end to the nightmare of Brexit. But there will be years and years of negotiating. It has had such a negative effect on my life and that if my partner’s. Our worlds are smaller and it has left a nasty taste in our mouths about being British

  2. We have been caught out with covid and unable to move over in time.Put deposit on property in Spain in march then lockdown.Pulled out due to various issues all related to covid.Now out of our control and waiting for clarity on new rules.We are so gutted but not giving up.

  3. There is a whole bunch of Brits who would agree with you. The flip side is that there is another bunch of people who voted to leave the EU who disagree with you. However we all feel or voted in the referendum, and for whatever reason, the vote was in favour of leaving the EU and, at last, a deal has been reached. We will get used to it in time. For those who want to remain living in Europe, I guess there will be forms to fill in for residency permits, for exports and imports, etc, but the world has not become smaller for Brits wanting to travel (once the coronavirus has retreated and we can all do so); it will take a little longer to get through customs.

  4. You’re only British if you actually care that you are. Who chose where they were born? Flag-waving and blind nationalism are for the weak-minded (see Brexit….).

    UK has good things about it, as do all countries. The bureaucracy and paperwork are just another thing in life to deal with, so do it. You want to live in a better country? Make it happen. Don’t give up.

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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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