House of Commons voted to keep EU citizenship for Brits

The House of Commons passed a motion that says British nationals should be able to maintain EU citizenship even after the country leaves the European Union. The document says that “the range of rights and protections afforded to individuals as European Union citizens are integral to a person’s European identity”.

The non-binding motion, voted on March 7th, was proposed by Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales. A majority of Welsh voters chose to leave the European Union in the referendum of 23 June 2016, but Plaid Cymru supported Remain.

Ahead of the vote, Plaid Cymru launched a petition to Westminster and Leanne Wood, leader of the party, wrote on Twitter: “I am European and no one should be allowed to take that away”.

During the debate in parliament, Hywel Williams, proponent of the motion, quoted Welsh philosopher J. R. Jones commenting in the 1960s on the then apparent decline of the Welsh language:

Leaving your country is a common and sometimes sad experience. But I know of something which is much more heart rending, for you could always return to your native land. And that is, not that you are leaving your country, but rather that your country is leaving you, being finally drawn away into the hands of another people, of another culture.

Many interventions recognized that being European is part of the identity of young people, who “know nothing more than being part of the EU,” said MP Christine Jardine.

The Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes, clarified that the government is “content to listen to proposals from the EU on associate citizenship for UK nationals” but these have not been formulated in the negotiations. She then added that “EU treaty provisions state that only citizens of EU member states are able to hold EU citizenship. Therefore, when the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, UK nationals will no longer hold EU citizenship unless they hold dual nationality with another member state.”

Plaid Cymru has now written to the Brexit Secretary requiring to press for continued EU citizenship.

At the same time, following the case brought by a group of Brits to a court in Amsterdam, the European Court of Justice will have to clarify whether EU citizenship can be taken away from British nationals after Brexit. There is also an ongoing petition calling on the European Commission to preserve existing rights for UK citizens.

The topic was discussed at a hearing at the European parliament on February 19th. Professor Dimitry Kochenov, Chair in EU Constitutional Law at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, told MEPs that allowing British nationals to maintain EU citizenship would be problematic. He argued that this would not consider the democratic debate in the UK, where a majority decided to leave the European Union. He also said that “inventing” an additional status during negotiations would complicate things and be potentially illegal, and that any special treatment of UK citizens would “send a bad message to EU citizens in the UK”.

Some members of the European parliament, including Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt, said to be in favour of maintaining some form of EU citizenship for British nationals. Others said that EU citizenship should be broadly reformed, possibly with harmonised rules across EU countries.

On March 14th the European parliament in Strasbourg will vote a resolution on the framework of future EU-UK relations. This includes a paragraph on EU citizenship that says:

[the European parliament] Reiterates that many UK citizens have expressed strong opposition to losing the rights they currently enjoy pursuant to Article 20 TFEU; proposes that the EU-27 examine how to mitigate this within the limits of EU primary law while fully respecting the principles of reciprocity, equity, symmetry and non-discrimination”.


Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Photo: European parliament in Strasbourg, via Pixabay.

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