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‘Securing rights of Britons in Europe is legally possible, they just need to try’

The EU says it won't negotiate "mini deals" and the "contemptuous" UK government doesn't seem interested in actively pursuing the Costa Amendment. But legal experts say ring-fencing the rights of Britons in the EU is achievable if it was just made a priority.

'Securing rights of Britons in Europe is legally possible, they just need to try'
Photo: vchalup2/Depositphotos

Since June 24th 2016, British citizens in the EU have anxiously awaited news of how their future status in their host countries could change with the UK’s departure from the bloc.

Last week’s so-called Costa Amendment offered renewed hope after nearly 1,000 days in limbo. The amendment, passed by the British parliament, calls for Theresa May’s government to “seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

This would effectively mean to secure a deal with the EU to ring-fence the citizens rights of 3.6 million citizens in the UK and 1.2 million Britons residing in the EU – regardless of the outcome of ongoing negotiations and regardless of whether her deal is ratified by parliament.

In a follow-up letter to the EU institutions on March 4th, the UK’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Steven Barclay suggested the UK government has taken a halfhearted approach to the Costa Amendment. 

“The Government’s position remains that the Withdrawal Agreement provides the best way of providing confidence to citizens,” wrote Barclay. “The Prime Minister made clear during her statement to the House on 26th February that the Government recognises the significant challenges related to concluding a ring-fenced agreement,” added Barclay.

READ ALSO: What happens next in the fight to protect citizens' rights?

Rights activists responded with indignation to Barclay’s lukewarm effort to negotiate an international treaty on citizens’ rights with the EU.

“It seems completely contemptuous of the Costa motion,” Jeremy Morgan QC, co-chair of British in Italy and one of the key legal experts at rights group British in Europe, told The Local. “They have been given a clear mandate by the UK parliament but they have watered it down so it doesn’t mean anything. It shows what Prime Minister May’s priorities are and citizenship rights are not one,” added Morgan.

Morgan argues that there is legal scope for such an international treaty as called for by the Costa Amendment. “Legally it is not a problem. It doesn’t say how they should reach an agreement. It just requires them to try,” says Morgan, who added that British in Europe will “be lobbying the EU very hard” in order for the idea of ring-fencing to be taken seriously.

Last week, the EU Commission said that it would not be willing to negotiate the citizens’ rights aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement separately, although that may simply have been hard talk in the ongoing negotiations and that stance was largely expected.

“The best way to protect the rights of 4.5 million citizens is through the Withdrawal Agreement,” said Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva. “We will not negotiate mini deals,” added Andreeva at a press conference on February 28th. The EU Commission had not responded to Barclay’s letter at the time of writing.

The EU has repeatedly asked the UK government to give a clear idea of its desires and intentions in the Brexit process. As Delia Dumaresq, co-chair of British in Italy points out: “The only thing that has the full agreement of the UK parliament is ring-fencing citizens’ rights.”

Jeremy Morgan QC, co-chair of British in Italy adds that with the right political will, and an extension to Article 50, such a treaty on citizenship rights could be achieved – and the extension could be justified to that end. The EU Council would simply need to adapt its negotiating guidelines. 

While the EU has officially said it won’t negotiate citizens rights separately on a pan-European basis, a former Commission official told The Local the most likely way the EU would agree to ring-fence citizens' rights, at least temporarily, was by simply extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit. 

“I would expect the EU to be quite sympathetic to this,” said the former Commission official, who did not want to be named.

“The EU has to be concerned with the rights of its citizens in the UK and wants to protect them.” 

But this kind of short term fix is not what campaigners for the UK citizens in the EU and EU nationals in the UK want.

“What we're after here isn't any old agreement, but an agreement under Article 50 which becomes a legally binding international treaty,” Kalba Meadows, a member of rights group British in Europe, told The Local.  

But with just three weeks to go before their lives are potentially turned upside down, some 4.5 million Britons in Europe and Europeans in the UK still don't appear to be a big enough priority for the EU or the UK.

READ MORE: What happens next in the fight to protect rights of Britons in Europe?

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TRAVEL NEWS

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

People who have more than one citizenship often hold multiple passports, so what does this mean for crossing borders? Here's what you should know.

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

For many readers of The Local, gaining citizenship of the country where they live helps them to feel more settled – but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long ‘non EU’ queue when coming back into the Schengen zone.

But this week the problems associated with travelling while holding dual citizenship came to light, leaving many people wondering what they should know when they are entering different countries.

Put simply – which passport should you use? And do you have to carry both with you?

Financial Times journalist Chris Giles tweeted that the UK Border Force “detained” his dual-national daughter while she was travelling from France into the UK with her German passport – and not her British one. 

He went on to say that UK border guards released his daughter. According to Giles, the border staff said she should have had both passports with her “and asked why she was travelling on her German one”.

The rules on dual-nationality have not changed, but now that the UK is not in the EU, there are strict rules on non-Brits who enter the country (and vice-versa) which has made it trickier for travel.

For instance, UK nationals receive a stamp in their passport when entering Schengen member states because they are only allowed to stay up to 90 days within an 180 period (unless they have a visa or residency card).

READ ALSO: Brexit: EU asks border police not to stamp passports of British residents 

People coming from the EU to the UK can generally visit as a tourist for up to six months without a visa – but are not allowed to carry out any work while there.

So which passport should you show?

The first thing to be aware of is there are no specific rules on travelling with more than one passport. 

Travellers can choose to use whichever passport they prefer when going to a country. 

But one thing to note is that it’s worth using the passport that is best suited to your destination when travelling there. Each country has its own set of immigration and visa rules that you’ll need to research closely.

It could be that one passport is better suited for your trip – and you may be able to avoid visa requirements.  

READ ALSO: How powerful is the German passport?

In the case of the UK, many people are still getting to grips with the different rules that apply because it’s not in the EU anymore.

A question submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in September 2021 provided some insight into this issue. 

The question from Labour’s Paul Blomfield asked what steps the UK government “is taking to enable dual UK and EU citizens to travel to the UK on an EU member state passport without having to further prove their UK citizenship?”

The Conservatives Kevin Foster said: “Border Force Officers examine all arriving passengers to establish whether they are British citizens, whether they require leave to enter or if they are exempt from immigration control.

“Where the passenger claims to be British, but does not hold any evidence of British citizenship, the officer will conduct all relevant checks to satisfy themselves the passenger is British.

Border control at Hamburg airport.

Border control at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“When dual nationals who are eligible to use e-gates travel to the UK, they will enter via the e-gates without being examined by an immigration officer.

“We recommend all dual nationals, including EU citizens, travel on their British passport or with evidence or their British citizenship to minimise any potential delay at the border or when commencing their journey.”

The Local contacted the UK Home Office to ask if there was any official advice. 

A spokesman said: “An individual can present whichever passport they desire to enter the UK, however they will be subject to the entry requirements associated with the nationality of the passport they present.”

They said anyone who is looking for more information should check out guidance on entering the UK and on dual nationality.

In short, if you present a German passport on entry to the UK you will be treated the same as any other German citizen – which can include being quizzed about your reasons for visiting the UK – as border guards have no way of knowing that you are a dual-national. 

Do I have to carry both passports?

There’s no rule requiring you to have both passports, but you won’t get the benefits of a British passport (entry into the UK without questions) if you don’t show it.

Likewise if you are a French-British dual national and you enter France on your UK passport, you will need to use the non-EU queue and may have your passport stamped.

Should I think about anything else?

An important thing to remember is that if you apply for a visa and register your passport details, the same passport has to be used to enter the country. 

It could also make sense to travel with both passports, just in case. 

However, note that some countries – like the US – require that US nationals use a US passport to enter and leave the States even if they are dual nationals. 

In general, it’s best to use the same passport you entered a country with to depart.

The rules and systems are different depending on the country. But many countries require people to show their passport when leaving – and they will either stamp or scan the passport – this is how authorities know that a foreign visitor hasn’t overstayed their time in the country. 

So if your passport is checked as you leave the UK, you should show the one you arrived with, just to ensure there is a record of you arriving and leaving.

However as you enter France/Germany/other EU destination, you can show your EU passport in order to maximise the travel benefits of freedom of movement.

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