Committee For Exiting The European Union Hears About Citizens' Rights

The Committee heard evidence from Fiona Godfrey, Chair, British Immigrants living in Luxembourg (BRILL), and Deputy Chair of British in Europe; Jane Golding, Co-Chair, British in Germany, and Chair of British in Europe; Michael Harris, Chair, EuroCitizens, Spain; and Kalba Meadows, Founder, Remain in France Together (RIFT), France.

I asked about the free movement of people across the European Union for UK citizens living on the continent. 

Stephen Kinnock: Good morning, everyone. I just wanted to go back to something that a number of the panellists said earlier, which is that the intelligence that you are getting from the European Union—and I assume that, by that, you mean both EU institutions and some of the member state Governments that you are in touch with—suggests that they would welcome a request from the British Government to, in essence, have a continuation of the status quo for those who are currently in the position of needing free movement across the European Union. Ms Golding, you said that that is not a red line for the EU. Is it right that the EU would assume then that that would be on a reciprocal basis? The offer from the UK Government would have to also be based on the continuation of the status quo for EU citizens in the UK.

Jane Golding: I would not go so far perhaps as using the word “welcome”, but the message we are getting is that the offer that was put on the table in September needs to be raised again; otherwise there will be no response on continuing free movement. Yes, it would have to be on the basis of reciprocity. The UK Government put lifelong right of return on the table back in September. We do not believe, from talking to people here in the UK, that the UK Government have a red line about that, because the offer was put on the table in September.

Fiona Godfrey: The important point to note is that that is a red line for the European Parliament to give its agreement to the withdrawal agreement. It has made it very clear now, in two or three different resolutions, that continuing freedom of movement for British in Europe must be part of the final withdrawal agreement. That is another opportunity for this to happen.

Stephen Kinnock: You have conveyed this point, clearly, to the British Government. What response have you had to that?
Fiona Godfrey: We have raised it repeatedly this year and we have had a recent response indirectly. I raised this point when I gave an interview to the BBC a couple of weeks ago. The BBC went and asked for a response from DExEU, and DExEU effectively said that it sees this is being something for the future relationship. Of course, it has not yet put its proposal for the future relationship on the table.

Stephen Kinnock: That is the future relationship beyond the transition period.

Fiona Godfrey: Yes.

Stephen Kinnock: That is the official position of the British Government now: that this is not going to be on the table within the withdrawal agreement.

Fiona Godfrey: As reported by the BBC via an email that it obtained from DExEU.

Stephen Kinnock: That is interesting. One other question I had was on the new arrangement for the future relationship and for the category of people who are moving around post-Brexit, which is a slightly different situation. What is your understanding of the extent to which a consistent EU-wide deal could be done for British citizens who are moving around the EU on that basis? My understanding is that this legislation is based on directives. Generally speaking, the EU sets a framework in a directive, but that directive is then transposed according to the idiosyncrasies of each member state’s legislation. Would you be looking here for something that was more along the lines of a regulation, which is where it is one clear and consistent approach right through the EU? I am just calling on your legal expertise a bit here. To what extent will it be possible to have one clear carbon copy across all member states? Will there have to be some differences, according to each of the member states?

Jane Golding: Yes, it is possible to have one clear carbon copy, and that would have to be in the withdrawal agreement. Similarly to the points that many of our colleagues from the3million raised about the detail that is necessary in the withdrawal agreement to make clear what will happen in terms of the registration system here in the UK, a similar amount of detail would be necessary in the withdrawal agreement, which will be a treaty. It will have the force of international law and will also have direct effect. Therefore, even if it were implemented by secondary legislation in the countries of residence, we would still be able to go back to the withdrawal agreement. For example, if there were a problem with implementation at national level, we would be able to go before the European Court and rely on our rights directly under the withdrawal agreement.

Stephen Kinnock: The bottom line is that it is vital that all of this goes into the withdrawal agreement and not in the political declaration.

Jane Golding: Yes, exactly.

Stephen Kinnock: That is very clear. Thank you.

Michael Harris: One of the important things we have not mentioned is citizenship and nationality. A lot of people say to us, “Why do you not just get citizenship? Why do you not just get nationality?” Within Britain, if you have permanent residence or indefinite leave to stay, it is a relatively straightforward thing to get nationality. In the EU 27, there are various countries that do not have dual nationality. I am in one of them: Spain does not have dual nationality. We have spoken about this with the Spanish ex-Foreign Minister Dastis. Spaniards here can have dual nationality but Britons in Spain cannot. Every state has its own regulation.

In Spain, there is no dual nationality, although you can keep two passports, which is a highly irregular situation. You can get away with it, and there is a campaign that we are starting to try to get dual nationality. There are a whole load of bilateral issues. Nationality and local voting rights are also bilateral; they are not in the EU negotiations, because each country has its own roles. The British Government really need to start working on that. For example, people in Spain cannot have dual nationality. Some people will have to renounce their nationality because, if they are civil servants, you can be a civil servant only if you are an EU citizen, so your job will go unless you get Spanish nationality. Therefore, you will have to renounce your British nationality, which is something that people do not want to do. If it means losing their job, they will have to.

These are these issues in various countries of dual nationality and voting rights. There are 300,000 people in Spain. There are whole communities with large numbers of Britons. There is a town in Almería, where I was last week, called Arboleas, 75% of whose population is British. It is not a posh coastal town but a little town up in the mountains. We will all be disenfranchised; we will not be able to vote anywhere, so we will be serfs. We will have no political rights whatsoever. We will have to pay tax and have all the obligations with no possibility to vote anywhere. In Arboleas, 75% of the community will be disenfranchised. The only people who will be able to vote will be the remaining 25%. This is an issue that the British Government really need to start talking to EU countries about.