UK agrees with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland to protect citizens’ rights regardless of Brexit deal

The United Kingdom and Switzerland have reached an agreement that guarantees the rights of British and Swiss citizens who have chosen to live in each other’s country, even if Brexit happens with no EU deal. A similar agreement has been confirmed for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Announced on December 20, the Anglo-Swiss agreement covers some 34,500 Swiss nationals living in the UK and 43,000 British residents in Switzerland, their family members, and about 2,600 UK frontier workers in Switzerland.

Switzerland is not part of the European Union but it has signed a series of agreements with the EU that involve the adoption of free movement rules. The status of Swiss citizens in the UK and Britons in Switzerland will therefore change as the UK detaches from the EU.

The deal with Switzerland differs from the draft withdrawal agreement from the EU as it covers solely citizens’ rights. The EU deal bundles this issue with the avoidance of a border in Ireland and the settlement of the accounts with the EU. This means that if the British parliament does not approve the EU deal, EU nationals in the UK and British residents in the EU will lose part of their rights.

Swiss nationals in the UK and British nationals in Switzerland, instead, will be able to rely on a separate deal that focuses on their status and is independent from the EU one.

Groups defending the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British residents in the EU have called in vain on both sides to “ring fence” the citizens’ section of the EU deal, so that people will be protected regardless of the Brexit outcomes.

The Swiss and the EU deals also differ on other aspects.

People from different countries with different rights?

The Anglo-Swiss agreement aims to continue current arrangements on residency, healthcare, education, social security coordination and recognition of professional qualifications.

To have their rights protected, Swiss nationals in the UK and their family members will have to apply for “settled status” like EU citizens. British nationals in Switzerland who already have a residence permit do not need to do anything.

The “settled status” will be lost after an absence from the country of residence for four consecutive years (it is five years for EU nationals in the UK and British residents in the EU under the EU withdrawal deal). The UK and Switzerland may also require a notification of departure to be able to extend the rights.

Family members of people covered by the UK-Switzerland deal will be covered too. This includes any person becoming the spouse of a Swiss national in the UK or a British national in Switzerland within five years from the entry into force of the agreement. The EU deal, instead, recognises the rights of spouses if the relationship existed before 31 December 2020. The UK will bring this date forward to 29 March 2019 for EU nationals, with a 2022 deadline for family reunions, in a no deal scenario.

For the aggregation of pension contributions and other social security rights, the Swiss deal will take into account “periods completed both before and after” Brexit. This section of the deal covers Swiss nationals, stateless persons and refugees residing in Switzerland, or vice versa, who have been subject to the legislation of the other country before Brexit, as well as their family members and survivors.

EU nationals who have acquired rights under the Swiss and British systems may be covered too, as long as the EU concludes a corresponding agreement with the UK which applies to Swiss nationals (the EU withdrawal deal does) and one with Switzerland which applies to UK nationals.

The Anglo-Swiss deal also covers persons providing services, while the EU will consider the services sector only as part of the future trade relationship with the UK.

A joint committee made of British and Swiss representatives will be responsible for the management, application and monitoring of the agreement, deciding whether to change parts of it or making other recommendations where necessary. This agreement, however, does not provide for the creation of an independent authority to receive complaints from citizens and bring legal action in the UK, an option that will be available to citizens from the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) if there is a Brexit deal.

The Anglo-Swiss deal will have to be ratified in each country. Pending its approval, it will provisionally apply from the moment free movement ends in the UK.

Deal reached also with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein

In December, the UK also reached an agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. These countries are not in the EU but participate in the single market (the European Economic Area), so they apply EU rules on free movement of people. Together with Switzerland, they form the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The deal with these states mirrors the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the EU. It covers citizens’ rights and other separation issues. Like EU nationals, citizens from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein will have to apply for settled status in the UK.

A UK government statement said: “In the unlikely event of no deal with the EU, the UK would still pursue a citizens’ rights agreement with the EEA EFTA states. We are discussing this with the EEA EFTA states. In any scenario, EFTA nationals will be able to stay in the UK post-exit.”

The UK, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein announced they reached an agreement to protect citizens’ rights in the event of no deal Brexit on February 8, 2019. This agreement includes an annual review clause to mutually agree to change the social security coordination arrangements.

Now the post-Brexit rights or residents have been guaranteed for the four European countries that are not members of the European Union.

The UK has promised to unilaterally guarantee the rights of 3.5 million EU nationals in the event of no deal Brexit. This will not cover all existing rights. Despite repeated calls, the UK and the EU have not offered to pursue a citizens’ rights agreement. In January a group of members of the European parliament wrote to the leaders of the EU institutions urging them to protect these rigths regardless of the Brexit outcomes, reported the Parliament Magazine.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

This article was first published on January 6 and has been updated with the latest information on February 10, 2019. Photo via Pixabay.

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