Introduction to the Mini-Symposium: EU Citizenship in the Shadow of Brexit

By Oliver Garner

On 22 October 2018, New Europeans and the Federal Trust held the event ‘EU citizenship rights in the shadow of Brexit’. Since that date, the end-game of Brexit has gathered pace. On 14 November, the Draft Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU was published. The UK government announced that a ‘meaningful vote’ would be held in the House of Commons on 11 December, before postponing on the eve of the vote leading to the Prime Minister weathering a vote of no confidence by Conservative MPs and the announcement that the vote would be held in the third week of January. Part 2 of this Agreement provides extensive protection for the legal rights of UK nationals in the EU-27 and EU citizens in the UK; however, it may be argued that this ossifies  a conception of EU citizenship as one of juridical objectity rather than political self-determination. At the European level, the Court of Justice of the European Union held in its Wightman judgment on 10 December that the United Kingdom would be free to unilaterally revoke its notification under Article 50 in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.  

This mini-symposium collates contributions from the conference on 22 October in light of the fast-paced developments since that date. In Part I, Ruvi Ziegler considers the ‘Brexit effect’ on European Parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom and the consequences of disenfranchisement for EU-27 citizens. Neither the Withdrawal Agreement nor the Political Declaration mention retention of voting rights in local government elections. The UK no-deal paper, to which Dr. Ziegler refers in his post  notes that the UK government has made a ‘good faith’ decision not to disenfranchise citizens of other EU countries in ‘England and Northern Ireland’s May 2019 local elections’ (the franchise in Wales and Scotland’s local government elections is a matter for the respective devolved administrations) as the UK pursues ‘bilateral agreements’. Dr Ziegler has critiqued the ‘bilateral’ approach  elsewhere.

Continuing the consideration of the devolved regions, in Part II Mark Lazarowicz considers the political participation by EU-27 citizens in Scotland after Brexit. He observes that the rights of EU citizens to participate in elections to the devolved Scottish Parliament and local elections remains within the remit of the Scottish government after Brexit. Further to these positive law rights, the Scottish government has pursued a more welcoming attitude towards the presence of EU-27 citizens and the exercise of their political rights.

In Part III, Oliver Garner considers the rights of UK citizens to vote in local government elections and European Parliament elections in the EU-27 after Brexit. The argument is that European measures to retain the rights of UK nationals to vote in these elections after the withdrawal of their Member State of origin would vindicate the genuine connection that they have developed towards their state of residence and towards the European project.

Finally, in Part IV, Dora Kostakopolou considers the opportunity that the United Kingdom has been presented with the Wightman judgment to reconsider the intention to withdraw from the European Union. In light of the deleterious consequences of Brexit for the rights that enable millions of EU citizens to sustain their ‘lifeworlds’, she argues that the United Kingdom would be justified to change its collective mind on the seismic decision to withdraw from the European Union.