‘Enough is enough’: Brits living in Europe take citizens’ rights fight to London

As the clock ticks down and the spectre of a no-deal Brexit potentially looms, rights groups representing Britons living in the EU and EU citizens in the UK took their struggle to Westminster on Monday.

'Enough is enough': Brits living in Europe take citizens' rights fight to London
Campaigners from British in Europe and the 3Million deliver their letter to the British PM at Downing Street on Monday. Photo: British in Europe

They called on the UK and the EU to safeguard the post-Brexit citizenship rights of approximately five million people living in the UK and the EU. The call comes on a day of action branded ‘the last mile citizens' lobby’.

Campaigners formed a human chain on Monday November 5th from Parliament Square to 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British PM Theresa May, to deliver a letter from the rights groups outlining demands for citizenship rights to be protected and ring-fenced regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

“Enough is enough – we need the UK government and the EU to honour the commitments already made to us during the negotiations, no matter what,” said a statement from British in Europe.

“We are campaigning, alongside our friends the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK, for the UK government and the EU to commit now to ring-fencing and implementing the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement under Article 50 – no matter what the outcome on Brexit.”

“You jointly have it within your powers to end this nightmare immediately for over 4 million of us, by taking the true moral high ground and publicly committing to honouring these agreements on our rights – whatever the outcome of the rest of the negotiations,” the3million and British in Europe wrote in an open letter to the UK’s and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiators in September.  

Participants in the human chain included social care workers, nurses, unpaid carers and other people who could fall victim to a hostile environment if their rights are not secured in a no-deal scenario. There will also be a rally in Parliament Square and a mass lobby of MPs in Parliament. 

For those who couldn't attend in person but wanted to participate, the grassroots rights movement British in Europe is calling on people to join its e-lobby by sending a letter to their local MP or by taking to Twitter.

The EU and the UK agreed on a package of reciprocal rights for citizens post-Brexit in the so-called Withdrawal Agreement, first announced in December 2017 and confirmed in a final draft in March 2018.

But those rights are contingent to the UK and the EU reaching agreement on the broader and outstanding Brexit issues, which include the ongoing problem of the Irish border. Campaigners fear they will be left high and dry if the withdrawal agreement is scrapped.

The day of action and the campaign to ring-fence rights regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations has the broad support of a group of cross-party British MPs.

“Fairness, common sense and mutual interest all dictate the rights of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in Europe should be protected after Brexit. I entirely support those who are campaigning to ensure that this happens,” Dominic Grieve QC, Conservative MP and former Attorney General, will tell Parliament in an address on Monday, according to a statement by British in Europe.

“A significant amount of the anxiety EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in the EU are experiencing about their futures could be alleviated by the UK government seeking agreement with the EU that they will honour their agreement on citizens' rights, even in the event of no deal,” Paul Blomfield, Labour MP and shadow Brexit minister, is expected to add.

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP, will say in his address to parliament that “five million people have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for more than two years now.

The government must guarantee – in law – the rights of all EU citizens in the UK, no matter the outcome of the negotiations.”

The campaign has not only found cross-party support in the UK, but support from European politicians too.

“I am directly affected by this issue,” French Senator Olivier Cadic, who is resident in the UK and represents French citizens in the country, told The Local.

“After more than two years and five months since the referendum it is totally unbelievable to still not know what Brexit means.”

Cadic has joined the campaign to ring-fence citizens rights because he suspects a no-deal Brexit “looks increasingly likely” due to the impasse on the issue of the Irish border. “

“How can we prepare for a no-deal Brexit?” said Cadic, noting that many citizens have already made arrangements based on the terms in the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Thousands of Brits in France are in the process of applying for a Carte de Séjour residency permit as they have been advised to do by France's Ministry of Interior.

Thousands of Brits across Europe are also applying to gain citizenship of their adopted countries as a way of guaranteeing their rights.

Member comments

  1. The French Minister of the Interior has asked us to apply for a Carte de Séjour, but how can we do that when the prefecture only releases a very small number of appointment times at midnight on a Sunday? I have been trying for weeks to get an appointment, getting more and more fretful as time goes on. Politicians, please sort it out!

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How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.