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ELECTION

Brexit: Britons in Europe urged to look on bright side of ‘devastating’ UK election result

Britons in Europe were on Friday having to get used to the idea that "Brexit was happening and nothing was going to stop it now". But they were also urged to look at the positive aspect of the UK election result.

Brexit: Britons in Europe urged to look on bright side of 'devastating' UK election result

The victorious prime minister insisted on Friday he would do everything to get Brexit done by January 31st.

Brexit he said was now the “irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable will of the British people”.

There will be many Britons in Europe who might still dispute that but most seemed to accept on Friday, some for the first time, that the UK will leave the EU and they would no longer be European citizens.

Many Brits in Europe took to social media groups to express sadness, shock and anger that the UK, or at least England and Wales, had effectively voted for Brexit once again.

Their reactions echoed those that followed the shock 2016 referendum result.

“It's a devastating morning for all of us – we know that people are shocked and angry and hurting, as we are ourselves after three and a half years of campaigning,” Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told The Local.

“Yesterday there was still a glimmer of hope that we might remain in the EU; today that's gone – it's a true Friday the 13th. So today is a day to mourn and take stock.”

But Meadows and others who have been sticking up for the rights of Britons in Europe have stressed there is at least something positive to take from Boris Johnson's win.

Much of the uncertainty that has blighted the lives of many and impacted the health of some will soon come to an end.

“There is some not so bad news too – our future rights will now be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, and we no longer have the spectre of a no deal Brexit that has kept us up at night for so long,” she said.

“It's not perfect – we lose our voting rights and our right to free movement for example – but it's lifetime protection of the majority of the rights we have now, and it'll stand even if the government doesn't reach a trade deal with the EU. And of course there will be no change for us until the end of the transition period.”

For many it was time for Brits in the EU to face the music.

“There is no other way out than Brexit happening on January 31st,” Germany-based British political commentator Jon Worth told The Local on Friday morning. “Nothing can stop this now.”

The hope of Brexit not happening “that stayed alive to a certain extent for the last three and a half years since the referendum is now definitively extinguished,” Worth said.

Justine Wallington from the campaign group Remain in France Together (RIFT) also suggested that there was a plus side to the “unpleasant shock” of the result.

“We mourn the imminent loss of our European citizenship, however, with respect to citizens' rights for those who are already resident before any cut off date (probably end of 2020), we face an improved situation compared to last October.

“Previously, current residents were facing a “no-deal” scenario and having to rely on the French Decree and now we are probably looking at the Withdrawal Agreement being agreed. This should secure many of our rights in an international treaty for the rest of our lives.

READ ALSO: A reminder of what the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means for Brits in Europe

“Some rights likely to be retained are the S1 medical cover, pension uprating, pension aggregation and more. Some rights we will probably lose – voting rights in local and EU elections in France at the end of January and onward freedom of movement at the end of the transition period.”

That transition period is due to end in December 2020 – just 12 months from now – although it may well be extended despite Boris Johnson having vowed not to.

However future generations who want to move and in Europe after the transition period have no idea what conditions will be imposed on them.

That will all be decided in the coming months and years.

The pressure group Brexpats Hear Our Voice sounded a more defiant note after the election result.

“Understandably there is shock, disappointment and anger reverberating around our group right now,” a spokesperson told The Local. 

“Our members are predominantly British and live across the EU. But we are standing firm. We will continue to fight for the protection of our rights and, more than ever, we stand in solidarity and support of our EU friends who have suffered abominably thanks to the callous and careless words of Boris Johnson. Now his party has a large majority, he will have to take full responsibility for all things Brexit. 

“We will continue to stand up for and defend the European Union's fundamental values, which we believe in, and as a reminder they are respect for human dignityand human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. These values unite us all. 

“This is also an opportunity for us to make a fresh start to get citizens' rights to the top of the agenda, and you can bet we are going to make a lot of noise about it.”

Some UK citizens in Europe were grateful that they could now at least look forward.

Clive Williams said: “For me personally this gives a way ahead with a withdrawal agreement that should protect my rights having decided to live in France 18 years ago. So now the uncertainty is gone, some bureaucracy is required and I can continue to live in a tolerant, beautiful country.”

Many spoke of the steps they will now take to secure their future in the EU, even if meant having to overcome some bureaucratic and linguistic hurdles.

Mary Hartley said: “This is a very sad day for me, I honestly did not believe that it would come to this but that’s made my mind up to go for dual nationality.”

Christine Craik had a similar reaction.

“I'm gutted. But it has made my decision easier to apply for French nationality,” she said.

Andrew Crowe said: “I need to be fluent in French fast to pass the nationality test. My life, family and business are here in France yet if i am not fluent i cannot be a citizen.”

 

While many Brits spoke of being grateful they were living in the EU given the Brexit chaos that has engulfed the UK, one reader Thomas Lam was not looking forward to the future.

“I am so genuinely disheartened and devastated by the result of the election,” he said. “I'm moving back to the UK in the next few days, but now I'm not sure if I want to.”

 

 

 

 

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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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