Not the least of the many uncertainties we face following the Brexit vote is what will be the situation for those UK citizens who wish to continue to live and work in Europe.
Fearing that after Brexit they will be stripped of their European identity, many UK citizens have been encouraged by recent reports of a suggestion by a Luxembourg MEP that after Brexit, British citizens could be offered the option of retaining a form of ‘associate’ EU citizenship, for a fee.
This is of course an attractive proposal not only for the the estimated 1.2 million Britons who reside in other EU member countries, but also for those still living in the UK who wish to retain the close ties with Europe that they fear, post Brexit, will be severed against their will. Charles Goerens, the MEP who proposed the amendment was hopeful that such a measure could be seen as a way for these UK citizens to maintain a close relationship with the EU, whether the live in our outside UK territory.
Unfortunately however, what was not made clear in much of the reporting was that this was not a formal legislative proposal but an amendment tabled to an ‘own initiative’ report about possible future changes to the EU treaties being discussed in one of the European Parliament's Committees.
Own Initiative reports are important because they allow the Parliament to explore proposals and for MEPs to express their opinions. The reports are also voted on. A positive vote for an ‘own initiative’ report, both at the committee stage and later in the full plenary of the European Parliament would be a signal that members consider it to be something worthy of further consideration, but this does not indicate that it is planned legislation.
Citizenship of the European Union was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. All citizens of European member countries, including at this point the UK, are European Citizens and this affords rights such as the right to vote in European elections, access to healthcare abroad, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU.
Currently a 'European Citizen' is a general term for a citizen of a member country of the European Union, and cannot be considered independently of that. Such a measure as independent European citizenship would require a treaty amendment agreed by all Member States and ratified by their national parliament or referendum. Regretfully, the situation at present remains that once the UK leaves the EU, British citizens will lose their EU citizenship so Brexit negotiations regarding their future rights will concern their jobs, homes, pensions and healthcare and greatly on their future.
Labour MEPs support the principle of Mr Goerens proposal and will of course make the case for the retention of as many EU rights and freedoms as possible for UK citizens in the government’s Brexit negotiations.