Last week I wrote a short blog post about citizens’ rights and Brexit. I suggested that an additional reason why the negotiations would not be straightforward was one of public perception and the public relations opportunity this presented to the EU negotiators.
This tweet I came across the next morning perfectly encapsulates this:
As a person based in the United Kingdom, I have been curious but largely ignorant of what work is being done with UK citizens in the EU. Indeed my (British) parents have lived, worked and raised their children in various EU countries since 1967 and are currently in Belgium where they have been for the last 25 years. Their position is as uncertain as anyone else’s.
So I was particularly interested to read that, at least insofar as the Netherlands is concerned, the British Embassy has held a series of meetings with British Citizens based in the Netherlands. These “open forums” were held in June this year and a summary account was published on 3 July on the government website here. Both the initiative itself and the transparency in publishing it are to be commended.
The FCO’s summary of the meetings makes interesting reading for the way in which it is expressed almost as much as the content of the discussions. It is not difficult to envisage what “strong feelings” expressed in a “frank and spirited” discussion might have looked like. Indeed the forums were oversubscribed.
The content of the note highlights the scale of the complexities seen ‘from the other side’ – i.e. from British Citizens living and working in the EU.
The practical issues raised included:
- Residence – separate from general issues as to residence permits, what was the status of those working for international organisations?
- Dual nationality – British Citizens do not wish to give up their British passports to take Dutch nationality and are seeking that the Dutch Government be lobbied to “add the UK to the list of countries with exemptions for dual-nationality”.
- This is not a problem for EU citizens in Britain who choose to take this course because Britain does not have such a requirement. But it does raise a wider point: how many other EU countries might this issue be relevant to?
- Working across borders: what about those who lived in one EU state but work in another. Because this is not an issue which has a significant (if any) impact on EU citizens in the UK, any deal based purely on reciprocity might not address this.
Other points included pensions, access to healthcare and higher education.
In summary, and notwithstanding the detail of the UK proposal, there are significant range of important matters which remain unclear, including:
- Meaning of residence – is presence enough?
- No certainty re the specified date – how can anyone plan?
- Application for status required – implicit that failure to do so will mean the individual is committing a criminal offence.
- Fees for applications to be set “at a reasonable level” – but no guidance: by way of example current EEA application for a residence card (which, in most cases, merely evidences the EU right to be in the UK as the right itself flows from EU law) costs £65. By contrast the current fees for an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain is over £2000.
- How are the rights to be enforced? There is now talk of a new supranational court that is not the ECJ.
The suggestion that citizens’ rights could be sorted out quickly and easily is rapidly fading into the distance.