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BREXIT

Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK

Of the roughly one million British nationals living in the EU, many of them have a non-British spouse or partner. These people are now being warned of problems ahead should they ever decide to return to the UK to live.

Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK
Photo: Ben Fathers/AFP

For some it’s the reason they moved abroad in the first place, while others simply met a handsome local in their new home and fell in love.

Either way, of the estimated 1.2 million Brits who live in EU countries, a significant number have met and settled down with partners from the country where they live or another non-British nationality.

While most Brits living abroad have managed to secure their residency rights since Brexit, they could face a whole different set of problems if they ever want to return to the UK and take their spouse or partner with them.

Under rules agreed as part of the Brexit negotiations, Brits can move back to the UK without their European partners needing costly visas as long as they do so before March 29th next year. 

But despite assurances given by the British government, the citizens’ rights campaign group British in Europe is warning that it is already seeing problems with the system, despite the deadline still being six months away.

The system

Since the end of the Brexit transition period, EU nationals who want to move to the UK face a tough immigration process which has strict requirements including a minimum level of English and financial requirements.

Simply being married or in a civil partnership with a UK national does not remove these obligations.

What is in place, however, is an extended grace period in which UK nationals who moved abroad before Brexit can return to their home country and bring their EU spouse with them, as long as they do it before March 2022. 

The problems

This system was not ideal and has left people facing tough choices. Even returning for a relatively short period, for example to care for an elderly parent back in the UK, can leave people facing a choice between their partner and their family.

Others may have no immediate plans to return to the UK, but may have considered it as a long-term option – now they have to either move back before March 2022 or face the prospect that moving back in future might not be impossible.

However now British in Europe is warning that even the system set up to process applications during the post-Brexit grace period is not working as it should.

EU nationals moving to the UK as the spouse of a British person have until March 29th 2022 to apply for Settled Status.

However, before they can apply they need to obtain a new EU family permit from the Home Office in the UK.

And British in Europe is warning that the Home Office is turning down some of these applications, often on seemingly flimsy or technical grounds.

Appealing against this can be a lengthy process, leaving some people who have already applied worried about missing the March deadline.

British in Europe’s Co-Chair Jane Golding said: “We are worried that there are many families across the EU who do not understand the implications of stringent immigration rules now applying to UK citizens in the EU.

“Many of us have older relatives in the UK who may need our care, or we had always planned to retire to the UK to be near family.

“The grace period given until the end of March 2022 is simply not long enough for families to make decisions to uproot and then arrange to return to the UK. We continue to lobby for a longer grace period.

“Families considering a move now need to be aware that the process is time-consuming and complex and that non-UK family members will first need to apply for a EU Settled Status family permit from outside the UK before the end of March 2022, and only when they have that and move to the UK will they be able to apply for EU pre-settled status.”

Member comments

    1. These rules always applied to spouses from third countries when UK was in the EU. Now the EU is just 27 third countries as far as UK immigration is concerned. They are a lot more lenient when it comes to ham sandwiches though.

  1. I assume this eternal Brexit cruelty also extends to future relationships between single UK citizens living in Europe that don’t even exist yet? So, I now have to be careful about the nationality of any new partner I might wish to meet, fall in love with and marry?

  2. This is appalling, given the unfettered illegal immigration happing in the UK at the moment.
    The UK is happy to accept future terrorists in rubber dinghies, but reject perfectly decent and respectable people just because they happen to be born outside the UK. Yet another example, if one were needed, of the irrational, clueless policy making by Johnson’s so called government.

    1. Migrants fleeing war and persecution and then legally gaining asylum are not “future terrorists in rubber dinghies”. I would rather have 100 of them in my neighbourhood than 1 racist, ignorant troll such as yourself.

      1. Thank for your comment. I find those with no rational argument always resort to abuse, as you have so eloquently proved.
        However, if you are so passionate about the legitimacy of the channel migrants, genuinely fleeing war and persecution, can you please explain to me:
        1. Why they do not settle in the first country that they reach?
        2. Why, according to Home Office figures, 98% of all channel migrants are male aged between 14 and 40. Where are the woman and children? For some reason they are obviously less eager to flee than their male compatriots. Please explain why that might be.

        1. 1. Bless you Tony, if you think that was abuse

          2. You literally said refugees were future terrorists – that is both racist and ignorant (as well as a good few other ‘abusive’ terms that spring to mind)

          3. There are so many painfully obvious reasons which are a quick Google away that I am not going to waste my time going into them here. But something tells me you aren’t interested in knowing or understanding, but rather looking to spew hate on a completely unrelated and innocent article, so I don’t see any point in continuing this conversation.

          1. Agree, equating refugees with terrorists is disingenuous at best and at worst feeds into the leftist narrative that all right wingers (now a slur) are white supremacists.

  3. Great article, thanks! But think this should read ‘now’ rather than ‘not’: now they have to either move back before March 2022 or face the prospect that moving back in future might not be impossible.

  4. Agreed with the above comment. We can not classify all migrants as potential terrorists. But, my main concern is that uncontrolled immigration can and will likely lead to the rise of right wing fascist groups in those countries that allow this. One only has to look at the USA and Donald Trump to see where this can go in a country once considered to be the beacon of democracy and I think many of us can agree that it’s not pretty.

  5. I have a friend in this very situation, the family has moved back to the UK while his Dutch wife is staying with friends. He was told 8-12 weeks (I think) but it’s looking closer to 8-12 months assuming she isn’t rejected.

  6. As I understand it, the deadline set for end of March 2022 only applies to those partners who were already in a relationship on Brexit day. So tough luck to those who find new partners.

  7. Gentlemen, let’s please have a civilized discussion here. I have never imagined that this is a place to verbally abuse anyone or call to task anyone’s personal opinions. We are all very opinionated people, that is clear. But one thing that is increasingly happening in the world is that we are expressing these opinions without regard to anything other than our own personal needs. Social media has allowed this abnormal process to live and thrive. There are other venues to use to express oneself in a critical way. This, however, is not a place for malice towards anyone. Thank you.

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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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