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BREXIT

OPINION: If the UK won’t stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it’s down to us

Writing in The Local, Jane Golding, the co-chair of campaign group British in Europe explains what she'll be doing to mark Brexit on Friday, how the loss of freedom of movement is such an emotional and financial blow to many and how it feels to be neglected by a British government who promised Brits in the EU their rights would be protected.

OPINION: If the UK won't stand up for the rights of Britons in Europe then it's down to us

What will you be doing on Friday night at 11 pm (or midnight)?

Like many British people on the continent, I haven’t decided. I fluctuate between wanting to mark Brexit quietly but symbolically with some friends in Berlin, or just staying home with my husband and going across the road to our local bar for a couple of strong cocktails. 

Or maybe just going to bed and hiding under the duvet.

Whatever I end up doing, the mood deep down will be sadness.

Then there is the exhaustion and physical toll from three years of campaigning to limit the damage that Brexit is causing to the 1.3 million of us who live in an EU 27 country.

Jane Golding gives a presentation to the Joint EP Committee Citizens' Rights hearing. Photo: Screengrab udiovisual.ec.europa.eu

And watching first-hand how the government that is supposed to be fighting our corner has led the race to the bottom in removing the indispensable rights on which we have built our lives has made me wonder what the value of British citizenship is – if this government had really cared about our rights, they would have made good on their pledge to give us back our votes in the Referendum and last three national votes. 

There is also the frustration of how we have been portrayed in some of the media – obviously I didn’t move to Berlin for a place in the sun! 

But I will be with my German husband and that matters hugely.

You see, he understands, as a former GDR citizen, about hard borders and separation.  He knows why free movement is important to me and he frankly doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go backwards.

And binational marriages and relationships between UK and other EU citizens like ours are a key part of the integration that has been fundamental to the success of the European project.  We’re together, but not the same – and that’s a good thing.

At its heart, the European project is one of peace, solidarity and cooperation, designed to bring people and cultures together, so that conflict becomes unthinkable. 

This is what my British father who, aged 20, was moving across Europe with the Allies and my German father-in-law who, aged 16, survived the bombing of Dresden, hoped for – for their children and their grandchildren.

British in Europe's Jane Golding (centre) and Kalba Meadows (left) along with the3million's Nicolas Hatton deliver a message to Downing Street. Photo: AFP

Together with our 3 million EU friends living in the UK, we make up nearly one third of all EU citizens who use their free movement rights.  

We are the people who have seized all the opportunities that EU citizenship and the fundamental freedoms have given us and taken them far beyond what the founding fathers dreamt of. The children of the European project.

This is why losing free movement and its associated cross border working rights are such an emotional blow for many.  Under the Withdrawal Agreement Brits in the EU will be able to stay and work in the country that they are resident in on Brexit day. This is a welcome step. But it is limited to that one country.  

This loss of free movement has practical consequences for the 80 percent of us who are working age or younger.  For many, crossing a border for work is like going out to buy bread. It’s something we do every week. Without it, many actual breadwinners will struggle to pay their rents, mortgages and provide for their families as they simply won’t be as attractive to employers or clients anymore.

We want to be able to carry on fighting for free movement as a priority in the future relationship negotiations. But campaigning has taken an economic (as well as emotional)  toll on our volunteers, many of whom are working full time, and have families themselves.

This is why we are asking supporters of our work to consider setting up a standing order to help us carry on our work in Phase 2 of the negotiations.  Someone needs to stand up for UK nationals on the continent. If the British Government isn’t going to do it or give us our votes back, it looks as though it will have to be us.

To find out more about how to donate to British in Europe you can CLICK HERE.

In the week running up to Brexit, British in Europe have been publishing detailed analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement and what it means for Britons across the EU. You can find out more HERE.

 

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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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