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The State of Play on Citizens’ Rights and Brexit

By Gareth Davies

When Britain leaves the EU there will be several million citizens of other Member States living in the UK, and probably around a million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. What happens to their rights when they suddenly cease to be living in the EU, or to be a Union citizen? This was one of the three ‘divorce’ issues that were addressed in the first phase of Brexit negotiations (the others were the Northern Irish border and the financial arrangements around withdrawal). That phase ended in December 2017 with a joint report to the Council setting out a basis for a future withdrawal agreement.

The citizen’s rights chapter of this report (paras 6-41) was the easiest to negotiate. The reason for this is that the UK, even fervent Brexiteers, had always maintained that it had no desire to throw out Union citizens already living in the country, and so very quickly the two sides could agree on a guiding principle: a freezing of the status quo. Those with Union rights at the time of the breakup would continue to enjoy them for as long as they remained, even if that be for life, while those who migrated after the Brexit date would fall under whatever new regime might be negotiated. The position of those who may arrive during a transition period, if one is negotiated, was not discussed, and is now the subject of fierce exchanges.

Thus where Union citizens and family members live in the UK on the basis of the citizen’s rights directive (2004/38), or Article 21 TFEU, or where UK citizens and family members live in other member states on either of these bases, at the date of withdrawal – which will probably be 30th March 2019 – then they will continue to enjoy the same rights, including non-discrimination and rights regarding social assistance, as they did before. The rights of their future children will also be the same as if the directive still applied, even if the children are adopted, conceived or born after Brexit. Moreover, the right to be joined by family members falling within Article 2 or Article 3(2) (partners in durable relationships) will continue after Brexit, provided that the relationship existed before Brexit day. The right to be joined by other Article 3 family members, such as more distant dependents, appears to be dropped after Brexit. For those who have lived in their host state for more than five years, their right of permanent residence, which gives them a right to social assistance if necessary, will continue provided they do not spend more than five years continuously abroad. Continue reading