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Brexit ends our EU citizenship. That’s a huge loss of rights

by David Harrison | 06.03.2019

David Harrison is a lawyer, author and former diplomat specialising in EU issues.

Lurking within Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, which will soon face another “meaningful vote” in Parliament, is an unpalatable fact: if it enters into force UK nationals will be stripped of their EU citizenship rights, whether they like it or not.

The same goes under a no-deal Brexit – and under any other species of Brexit which removes the UK from the jurisdiction of EU law.

What is so wrong with this? The EU is a unique legal system in the world, and, although it is not widely appreciated, under it individuals themselves – not just member states – have their own rights, directly protected under EU law. One of these rights is EU citizenship, which all UK nationals possess at present as a matter of course, in addition to their own nationality.

With EU citizenship we enjoy free movement to live, work and retire in more than 30 other countries. We have political rights, and the protection of the rule of law in other EU countries. Since EU citizenship comes with birth, even young people in the UK who cannot yet vote are in reality already citizens of Europe.

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But the withdrawal agreement as negotiated by the UK government with the EU simply takes all these rights away, without anyone affected having the remotest say. Apart from being undemocratic, this is actually wrong as a matter of EU law: anyone losing important rights like EU citizenship should be consulted first. If they do not want to lose their rights the withdrawal agreement should then include proper safeguard arrangements to look after them.

Because this process has not been gone through – and none of this was touched upon in the 2016 referendum – the withdrawal agreement is fundamentally flawed. MPs must not approve this massive loss of individual rights without the public’s say so.

All this adds up to another strong argument for putting Brexit to the people, for a further hard look. People need the chance to have their say before they lose important rights, and those of their children, for ever. And that’s what thousands of people, from every region and nation of this country, will be demanding at the Put It To The People march in London on March 23.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

27 Responses to “Brexit ends our EU citizenship. That’s a huge loss of rights”

  • This is a very important article. I seem to remember that this loss of human rights against an individual’s will is being challenged already – something to do with a Dutch court, wasn’t it?

    Leave voters can renounce their own rights maybe, but surely cannot take away the rights of others.

    Why isn’t the EU doing more to stand up for the rights of EU citizens in Britain who voted to remain that way? They are protective in relation to Ireland but others also deserve protection.

  • I imagine there is a legal problem in that the EU citizens rights to be EU citizens devolves or derives from their being nationals of a Member State ?

  • Thank you David Harrison for this much needed article. I have been banging on about this since 2016. I have asked my MP, the ERG hardliner, Suella Braverman, in writing about this half a dozen times at least. She will not answer and she does not care. Guy Verhofstadt told me in an email reply that people like me ‘would not be forgotten’, but that is exactly what has happened. We were once told that it may be possible to pay an annual fee (which I would do) to maintain our rights as EU citizens. I have told Braverman it is immoral to take these rights away. I have not given the likes of her tawdry crowd my permission to chew me up and spit me out. I am also very angry that my grandchildren who were born with EU citizenship are having their rights taken away. We should take the British government to court. They are stealing our rights, robbing us and hanging us out to dry. 16 million at least should be marching in 23 March because of this robbery but I wonder if everyone realises what they are losing. Braverman lectures me about democracy- how dare she when she cares not one jot about EU citizenship enshrined in law. They are walking all over us and too many of us accept it.

  • Absolutely agree, as do my teenage granddaughters and all the other 25 in their London school classroom. The disgraceful tragedy is that so many of my fellow grandparents take no notice. They will be ‘leaving’ in every sense quite soon, bequeathing to their ‘loved ones’ just a deprivation of rights.

  • David – an excellent article, thank you.
    I am being stripped of my EU citizenship without my consent.
    That is unacceptable to me.
    But as I understand it, if I renounce my British citizenship (tempting) and we do leave the EU, I will then be stateless.

  • 70 years of peace.
    Human rights legislation*
    Employment rights legsilation*
    Better trade deals than any small island can do on its own.

    Why don’t you just do a bit of research yourself?

    Someone once aks what did that Romans ever do for us – research that too.


  • It’s disgraceful that our rights and those of our children are being removed in this way. I am concerned that pressure for a second referendum and a vote to stay in the EU is falling away as people tire of the arguments. Let’s keep pressing for a revocation of Article 50.

  • May consistently dodges this point when put to her, for the simple reason, she hasn’t got an answer. She has an obsession with stopping EU migrants, and the rights of UK nationals are just collateral damage. Stopping EU migration is probably the very last compromise she would make.
    The logic of her thinking is that The French belong in France, the Germans in Germany and the British in Britain, rather than being able to broaden horizons.

  • Those of us living in Europe are the embodiment of the European Project – we know what it’s about and we embrace its freedoms and opportunities. Those ignorant of our lives should never have had the right to take away our rights. We are devastated – and have no representatives to fight our cause except the fantastic British in Europe group and RIFT who do the best job they ever can in the circumstances. Many of us could not even vote. One more thing – those of us retired on a government pension (not OAP – government pension is essentially civil servants – teachers, local g’ment officers, police etc etc) havé spent our working lives in public service. We cannot elect to pay our tax in our country of residence – HMRC deduct our tax at source before we get our pensions. So – please understand how we feel – we pay thousands to the British Government each year with no representation. We have our healthcare guaranteed under our membership of the EU – we have the wonderful Freedom of Movement guaranteed – we have local and EU voting rights – all of which make it just about worthwhile to pay British tax – but take away our EU citizens rights and we are in a perilous position most of us can’t afford. We just do not deserve to be treated like this by ignorant bigots who will always be blind to the vision of a Europe at peace working together for the future of all our children . . .

  • Perhaps we disaffected Brits should start pushing for general E U citizenship which would preserve our current rights.

  • Very well expressed. I feel exactly as if a totalitarian government for ideological reasons is stealing my passport and messing with my fundamental human rights. Like most musicians I make my living by touring. We almost universally see only expense and barriers to earning as a result of Brexit, hard or soft.

  • I will never forgive those who voted to strip away rights both from British and EU27 citizens. And for what? To this day I’ve never heard of a good reason for Brexit.

  • So why on earth isn’t anyone from EU stepping in to spank the UK government’s collective botties, take away their rattles and send them to their rooms with a flea in their ear?!?!? For goodness sake, we need help! Can’t a grown up come and take charge of this shambles?

  • Much as I sympathise with those who would like to the EU to be more involved with defending our rights they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Our right wing press and the brexitremists only need to get a sniff of the EU seeming to interfere and they throw their rattles, and nappies, out of their prams. Look at how the US ambassador laid into the EU, because brits had the audacity to complain about their appalling trade deal proposals. He obviously didn’t think we could decide for ourselves that it was rubbish!
    I am afraid this is our fight to win, as much as the EU would like to support us more directly. I for one would happily pay for continued EU personal membership as a UK citizen, as I am sure millions of us would.

  • I understand that technically there is no such thing as a “British citizen” as we are subjects of the monarch. I was so happy to be a citizen of somewhere and now that is being removed. As a Welsh person, to describe myself as British was way down the list especially as “English” and “British” are used interchangeably by so many people.

  • I wrote the following to the PM: “Prime Minister, you have made much of freedom of movement as it concerns immigration but I and many others regard it as a right that neither you nor the EU have the authority to take away from us. EU citizenship as defined in the Treaty of Maastricht is a fundamental and individual right. That Treaty makes no provision for the removal of that right if a Member State ceases to be such. Go ahead with Brexit if you must, although I oppose it root and branch; but my opposition to it would be mitigated almost entirely by being able to retain my EU citizenship. It is an international agreed principle that once accorded, a human right cannot be taken away. If you truly want to reunite this country, I put it to you that giving us a mechanism to retain individual EU citizenship would go a long way towards achieving that.”

  • As an expat pensioner, I am completly dependant on maintaining reciprocal healthcare and the value of the UK state pension. Yet the Government website now says the S1 form, which is needed for reciprocal healthcare, may be invalid after 29th March.
    When I write to DExEU, I get told the above is solely dependant on EU governments or authorities. I fail to understand why any EU authority would want to prevent payments being made from UK Government Departments to UK nationals. These are financial transfers from the UK. One letter even had the cheek to suggest I had the right to free healthcare in the UK, as if I didn’t know.

    Maybe DExEU don’t have the time to read all their correspondence (it certainly looks that way), but that’s no excuse to take it out on innocent UK nationals just trying to live their lives. The Dept of Health says that for those in Germany, private health insurance is an option, something I would refuse to take out on principle. If I end up having to pay for my healthcare as a pensioner, I will forward the invoices to the Whitehall Dept. Or demand repayment of my national insurance contributions.
    Its bad enough losing the many rights we and the Government signed us up to in the Withdrawal Agreement, but ending up helping bail out the Government’s failed Brexit strategy, would be the last straw. I still pay all my income tax into the UK system. The irony is that on our passports it says words to the effect that the Government will defend UK nationals interests.

  • I have complained along these lines on this forum before. Many of the Leavers I met while campaigning before the referendum had no idea that there was a European Parliament and had clearly never bothered to vote. These people have voted to disenfranchise me against my will. Nobody seems interested in restoring my rights in this or any other sphere of European citizenship. I am infuriated by it.

  • I ..like many others…am disgusted that this right will be taken away from even tho I want to REMAIN A CITIZEN OF THE EU….I want my children and grandchildren to REMAIN A EU citizen….I even wrote to the courts of human rights…..we are 100% better off in the eu

  • @Laura …Thank you very much for that link.
    I’m resident in Greece, been so for 28 years, so no referendum vote for me. I’m ashamed to say my parents voted for Brexit despite the major impact it is likely to have on me.
    We got married in 1992 …1992 for a reason, we believe in the EU. If it isn’t how we want it, we should vote to change it and take a proper active part in its functioning properly. That most Brits do not know who their European Parliament member is is a reflection on them not the EU. Most Brits have no idea how much money and positives come in to the UK. They seem to think it’s a one-way street. And as for EU migrants … Well what can I say? Their lack will become apparent I’m sure.
    I am dismayed beyond belief. My passport runs out this year. It might just be my last UK one 🙁

  • I too have written to my MP ( Caroline Flint Don Valley ) twice since June 2016 about my citizens rights and of course her obligation to help me as a constituent .
    I am still awaiting a response ! Now i have a daughter currently studying at the University of Copenhagen for her International degree with the assistance of the Erasmus + ” study abroad ” scheme. On that basis alone and with those fears for her education and means to pay , I would have thought I would have merited some consideration.

    We do travel as much in Europe, as often as we can but i have a problem with cancer so of course i am concerned about the potential withdrawal of our EHIC cards and in her case her SEHIC card , many of us will become virtually uninsurable overnight and our students most likely will be dangerously exposed to uninsurable risks – as I say I still await her reply . What really concerns me is that I don’t expect a senior MP like Mrs .Flint to be that disorganised .
    She does appear to find it simple enough to pen snotty replies to various petitions !

    It appears that she is only concerned with the rights of the Leave voters in our ” Leave voting ” constituency. Perhaps our MPs have forgotten that they represent every man, woman and child in their constituencies regardless of how they voted , whether or not they voted or perhaps aren’t eligible to vote at all. Country first Mrs. Flint ( how apt) then constituents and finally the special interests of your ” Leave ” voters and your interests . You claim you voted Remain in an Advisory Referendum in which the result was achieved illegally, amorally and with more lies and exaggerations than in any public vote ever. For all intents and purposes this was a Right Wing coup which by your inactions you have become complicit in .