The UK and EU announced on Thursday that they have agreed on a new deal for Britain's exit from the EU, and both sides hope to ratify that deal by October 31st.
The new deal has changes to the Irish border arrangements and VAT, but on questions of citizens rights for UK nationals living in Europe it is largely the same as Theresa May's deal, which was first agreed just under a year ago.
While Britain's exit from the EU on October 31st with a deal now looks a lot more likely there are still some hurdles to overcome – the European Council has to endorse the deal and British MPs have to approve it, which proved the sticking point for previous Prime Minister Theresa May.
- What the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means for British citizens in Germany
- The ultimate Brexit checklist for Brits in Germany
Although everyone agrees that a no-deal is best avoided, citizens rights’ campaigners believe the ever-changing developments could cause a lot of confusion, especially in a federal country like Germany which has devolved power to local administrations, and has been readily preparing for a no-deal.
Matt Bristow, of citizens right group British in Germany (BiG) told The Local: “One of the biggest issues in Germany is that because the threat of a no-deal has been hanging over everything for so long, the German authorities have understandably been preparing for that scenario.
“So it might take some time to actually switch back to what was 'Plan A' and have all the procedures in place and necessary arrangements so that people can get their new status.”
Bristow said Britons needed to “look very carefully” at what their local authorities are doing.
As The Local has reported, processes vary hugely across Germany, a country of 16 states and hundreds of foreigners authorities. Some places, like Berlin, have already been proactively asking Brits to register ahead of Brexit. Others have been sending letters out to residents asking them for interviews. Some do not plan to take any action until after the UK officially leaves the EU.
Germany has also been planning to bring in a no-deal Brexit law which would guarantee that no British citizen already living in Germany before Brexit would be forced to leave.
“I think it’s going to be confusing enough for people who’ve been living this day in and day out and looking at the Withdrawal Agreement,” said Bristow.
Anti-Brexit campaigners in Brussels on Thursday. Photo: DPA
“But for local officials in your local foreigners registration office (Ausländerbehörde) it’s not going to be their top issue that they deal with day to day. The planning for no-deal, which would have led to lesser rights, might influence what’s happening under a deal.
“I think we need to be careful to make sure if the deal does pass then it’s those rights that are protected.”
Bristow said it was important to try and avoid mistakes that might see British nationals end up going down the wrong set of procedures and given the wrong residence permits.
He said it could take the government, states and local administrations time to figure out “which piece of legislation is coming into force, what does this actually mean for people, do we have to change any of our procedures, do we need new paperwork”?
“I think it will create a lot of confusion at first as people get their heads around it,” he added.
If the deal does get ratified, it would also mean a transition period until at least December 31st 2020 (possibly one or two years longer if agreed by both sides) during which all current rights such as freedom of movement would continue.
Yet there are still unanswered questions and issues that remain up in the air, such as on the recognition of qualifications and what it will mean for workers operating across EU borders.
Just how residence permits for Brits in Germany will work in the event of a deal is another issue that isn't clear.
“We will have different rights under the Withdrawal Agreement than is the case with standard residence permits, so I don’t know if Germany will have to create a new category of residence permits in line with the Withdrawal Agreement,” Bristow said. “That’s something we don’t know anything about yet.”
However, Bristow also pointed out that a deal and the October 31st leaving date isn't certain yet.
“At the moment we still need to be cautious about jumping to any conclusions about what will happen,” he said.
“Although the UK Government and European commission have come to an agreement, that still doesn’t mean that it has gone through the UK Parliament. I think we have to not lose sight of the possibility that this deal could all go down the pan.
“No-deal is still on the table at the moment until a deal has been ratified. So I think that worry will remain for people until it’s certain that a deal is going through.”
What else could a ratified Withdrawal Agreement mean?
As the transition period will be in place until at least 2020, and maybe even extended, Brits in Germany will have more time to apply for citizenship if they qualify during this time.
“A large number of people will qualify if the cut-off date for application is later,” said Bristow. “That would make a big difference to a lot of people in Germany.”