A group of British MPs is calling for the rights of UK citizens currently living in Europe and European citizens in Britain to be clarified as soon as possible. Understandably, this issue is causing considerable concern for many British people living in the EU and vice versa.
New citizenship initiative
Meanwhile, a separate new online initiative has been launched calling for European Union Citizenship to be permanent for UK nationals. The aim is to gather one million signatures to urge the European Commission to consider passing legislation to protect citizens rights following Brexit.
Citizenship issues ‘unresolved’
MPs in the Exiting the European Union Committee say that substantial issues remain unresolved for British citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK; and citizens’ rights should be urgently clarified.
Call to secure and ringfence rights
The EU insists that European citizens in the UK retain their rights and the committee says the same should be true for the status of UK citizens in each of the EU’s 27 Member States. This should be secured and ringfenced, even in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario.
UK Government should press for free movement
It calls in particular for the Government to press for an agreement on ongoing free movement within the EU27 for UK citizens living in Europe.
Progress needed quickly
The Chair of the Committee, Hilary Benn, says, "Citizens' Rights was one area of the Brexit negotiations marked as green in the March draft of the Withdrawal Agreement which implied that it was all sorted. But the evidence we have heard suggests it is far from being finalised.
“In evidence to our inquiry, we heard the hopes and fears of UK citizens in the EU as well as of EU citizens resident here in the UK. These are people who have made their lives in the EU in good faith or came to live and work in the UK, paying taxes, raising families and putting down roots.
The rights of UK citizens living in the EU27 and of EU nationals in the UK should be based on full reciprocity, but as things stand, both groups are likely to lose some of the rights they had previously. That's not fair and it's why we want to see further progress quickly.
“And whatever happens with the negotiations, we urge all Governments to make it clear to all EU citizens who have made somewhere else their home, that they can stay."
Other rights requiring clarification
Other associated rights and provisions that require clarification are registration of UK citizens, recognition of professional qualifications, voting rights and whether UK citizens can continue with or apply for dual nationality.
Digital process ‘could create barriers’
The UK Government has said it wants EU citizens to stay in the UK and their right to remain will come through the Home Secretary's scheme of "settled status". However, the digital application process proposed by the Home Office risks creating barriers for applicants and confusion among those required to make the checks, including potential landlords and employers, the committee warns.
Uncertainty causing stress
The committee heard from Kalba Meadows, Coordinator of 'Remain in France Together' and member of British in Europe, who is a UK citizen but lives in France, that uncertainty was continuing to create stress and “many people stick their heads in the sand because they do not know how else to act.”
Digital roll-out challenging
The timetable and deadlines for the roll-out of the application process, which may handle three million applications, are challenging. It will require a considerable public information programme to ensure success.
Call for physical residency cards
Once applications are processed, evidence to the inquiry led the Committee to recommend that a physical document such as a residency card should be issued, rather than relying on a digital format. This would provide more reassurance and familiarity and could be more readily shown to employers and potential landlords.
Cost should be free
The process for EU citizens in the UK to obtain settled status should be cost-free, as long as a similar agreement is secured for UK citizens in the EU.
For the Irish in Britain, the Government should set out detailed guidance to clarify why they might choose to apply for Settled Status and any applications should be free, the committee believes.
The UK Government should also explain clearly what will happen to EU citizens who fail to apply for settled status in the UK after the transition and grace periods end.
The committee concludes, “The Withdrawal Agreement is not finalised. While we welcome the positive statements from the Ministers that they would honour their commitments to the EU in the UK in the event of no deal, more could be done to provide reassurances as to how this would be put into legal effect.
“The Withdrawal Agreement contains protections for EU citizens in the UK and for UK citizens in the EU. However, in the event of No Deal, there would be uncertainty around establishing the right to reside and work and the right to return after a period of absence. There are also protections built into the Withdrawal Agreement which would be lost, such as the right to refer cases to the CJEU for eight years.
“We welcome the Home Secretary’s clear commitment that EU citizens living lawfully in the UK will be able to stay in the event of No Deal, and call on Member States to make similar public commitments to assure all UK citizens living in their territory that their rights will also be safeguarded in such circumstances. We note that the European Parliament has pursued this issue and we trust that they will continue to do so.”
European Citizens' Initiative launched
Meanwhile, as separate bid has been launched to enable Britons to keep EU citizenship and associated rights for life through the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI).
Change of law considered with one million signatures
The ECI allows citizens to gain attention to issues and possibly change the law by gathering one million signatures. At that point the European Commission examines the issue and decides what action it should take.
The campaigners say, “EU citizens elect the European Parliament and participate in its work, thus exercising treaty rights, enhancing Union democracy, and reinforcing its citizenship.
Brexit could strip millions of EU citizens of status
“Noting the European Court of Justice’s view of Union citizenship as a ‘fundamental status’ of nationals of Member States, and that Brexit will strip millions of EU citizens of this status and their vote in European elections, requests the Commission propose means to avoid risk of collective loss of EU citizenship and rights, and assure all EU citizens that, once attained, such status is permanent and their rights acquired.”
Initiative vital in context of Brexit
The group has set up a website at https://www.eucitizen2017.org/
. Its committee is made up of residents of Ireland, France, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom who aim to protect the current and future citizenship rights of all European citizens.
“This initiative is vital in the context of 'Brexit' and an ever-changing political dynamic across Europe. We are part of a growing movement of European citizens who are determined to preserve our collective rights and responsibilities.”
Direct impact on people’s lives
Group representative, Tony Simpson, explains, “As Exit Day approaches on 29 March 2019, so does the prospect of millions of UK nationals losing their citizenship of the European Union. This will have a direct impact on people’s lives.
“One British woman who lives on the border of Spain and Portugal describes how she and her family are uncertain of their access to parts of their unified city, which spans the border, after Brexit. Meanwhile, millions of EU nationals residing, working and studying in the UK also live in Limbo, anxiously awaiting the outcome of protracted negotiations which look set to downgrade their rights.”
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