Brexit blow for UK nationals after ruling they can’t keep EU rights – ‘Argument not heard’

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British nationals living in the bloc will not keep the advantages they had as EU citizens now that the UK has left the union.

In an opinion piece published on Thursday, an Irish advocate general Anthony Collins said that British nationals “who enjoyed the benefits of union citizenship do not retain those advantages following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU”.

The European Court of Justice based in Luxembourg is set to issue a formal ruling on this issue in June and the Court usually follows the advice of the advocate.

The case was brought to the EC’s attention on behalf of Alice Bouilliez, a former civil servant who lives in south-west France, and has done so for 37 years.

Ms Bouilliez argued against losing her voting rights in both local and European elections after saying that EU citizenship was an essential status and should not be able to be withdrawn without consent when it impacts people’s rights. 

The Brexit withdrawal agreement stated that the estimated 1.3 million UK citizens who legally reside in one of the 27 EU states by the end of the transition period are eligible for permanent residence, ensuring the protection of their most basic rights. 

However, the agreement did not secure certain rights of British nationals which they had as EU citizens including the right to live and work outside their EU residence, the right to vote and the right to stand in local and European elections. 

Julien Fouchet, the French lawyer representing Ms Bouilliez, stated that he had wished that voting rights would be preserved after pointing out that this client could not gain French citizenship due to her oath to the Queen as an employee of the Foreign Office.

The lawyer said: “Our arguments were not heard. The advocate considers nationality is the essential criterion, that residence does not count. 

“He seems to think UK citizens can easily apply for dual nationality, but that is very far from always being the case.”

Mr Collins argued that EU citizenship did not replace nationality granted by member states and is an additional to that nationality.

He argued that the loss of pre-Brexit citizenship rights was “one of the consequences of the sovereign decision of the UK to withdraw from the EU”.

Due to the fact that Ms Bouilliez has been residing outside of the UK for more than 15 years, she also could not vote in the Brexit referendum. 

Mr Fouchet said he was “very disappointed” with the announcement from the advocate and hoped the Court would not follow the advocate’s decision in the official ruling in June.

He stated that in 25 percent of cases brought to the Court, they did not follow the advice of the advocate general.

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Mr Fouchet added that the advocate’s opinion was “over-simplified” and is “a big step backwards for the European Union.

“I consider EU citizenship to be one of the most significant achievements of the union. Its loss entails considerable consequences.”

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