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BREXIT

OPINION: Britons living in Europe will be locked out of UK by ‘inhumane’ law

Britons living in Europe who have non-British partners or families are effectively being exiled from their country of birth by the UK government's 'inhumane' immigration bill, explains Brian Robinson from the campaign group Brexpats Hear our Voice.

OPINION: Britons living in Europe will be locked out of UK by 'inhumane' law
Immigration is a very sensitive issue to British people, and minds can become inflamed by stark headlines that bear little resemblance to the truth in many cases. One specific area, and a potential casualty of future legislation is family reunification.
 
While the government talks of “tightening up” immigration rules, and “the removal of loopholes”, there is great danger in blanket legislation resulting in more unintended human casualties.
 
As was mentioned in the article on 5 October (Key victory for family rights of Britons returning to the UK from EU) the Immigration Bill potentially locks many Britons out of the UK because they would not be able to return home with their non-British partners in the future (The current deadline date is March 29th 2022).
 
Basic rights, such as those related to family reunification, should be able to withstand the assault of populism, otherwise they become nothing more than temporary arrangements.
 
'It is inhumane to force people to choose between which parents to support'
 
 
British citizens living in the EU have moved to live, love, study, take jobs, build businesses in the EU27, on the understanding that these rights were inviolable.
 
Without British in Europe's amendment 11, the Immigration Bill would impose severe restrictions affecting family reunification. Who could have foreseen these restrictions or conditions on returning to live in the UK, especially when Michael Gove claimed that “All your rights, all your privileges are carried on and respected”?
 
As can be seen from Hansard, families will be faced with impossible choices, as in the example of an elderly lady living in the UK, expecting to receive support in the form of part-time care from her daughter, who would be prepared to give it, provided her French husband were allowed to move with her to Britain.
 
How do you advise a couple currently living in the EU, one British and one an EU national, both with elderly parents, one side of the family in the UK and the other in an EU country? They will be faced with an impossible choice: not just where they should live after March 2022, but which parents they must decide to care for. It is surely inhumane to force people to choose between which parents to support?
 
'Prospect of separation from family is unbearable' 
 
 
Our families are multi-generational. A lot of young British people already have diminished rights as they are only covered by the Withdrawal Agreement as family members in some EU states. Those who have grown up in the EU are even more likely to have EU rather than British partners. They are being punished several times over, yet we are supposedly a global society! 
 
Looking at the financial requirements of the Immigration Bill; the minimum income requirements (MIR) are so demanding that as many as 40% of UK workers could not even reach them, and the non-British partner’s income can be taken into account only after six months, assuming he or she can get to the UK in the first place.
 
Older UK citizens living in the EU may be unable to reach the minimum income threshold. This would be discriminatory towards UK citizens living in the EU, imposed retrospectively on citizens who had no expectation that this choice might lie ahead.
 
We must not confine our consideration to just the financial impacts of separation, but the emotional, mental and physical hardship. If you want to bring elderly parents back to live in the UK, they are likely to be so much in need of care that they would probably be unfit to travel. 
 
The prospect of separation from family is for many, unbearable, yet, many are faced with making this stark choice – whether or not to return to support elderly relatives whilst leaving their own families behind.
 
'Brits are being exiled from the land of their birth'
 
This cannot be the true intention of this legislation, as it would be wrong and deeply unfair to put a deadline on British citizens living in the EU returning to the UK with their families.
 
The reality of the Government’s current position is to exile this finite group of British citizens from the land of their birth. Unless the end date is removed from the Bill, this right will be removed on 29th March 2022, creating impossible choices for thousands of families.
 
I can do no better than close with the wise words of Lord Judd: “Do we want to be a society based on compassion and concern, or to become a nation without a beating heart on humanitarian issues of this kind?”
 
Brexpats Hear Our Voice campaigns for the preservation of the rights of British nationals in the EU as well as support EU citizens in the UK

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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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