As hard Brexit looms again, EU-27 plans on citizens’ rights are skeletal and poorly developed, new report finds
BRUSSELS — In the six months since the original Brexit deadline, EU member states have not undertaken significant additional contingency planning to register and protect the UK nationals living on the continent in the event the United Kingdom crashes out of the European Union without a deal, a new Migration Policy Institute Europe policy brief finds.
The result could spell major difficulty ahead for the nearly 1 million UK nationals resident in the EU-27 who with hard Brexit would transition overnight from being EU citizens to third-country nationals without free movement or a solid framework to spell out their legal and employment status, health care, social insurance and more. The transition could hit certain vulnerable populations, including same-sex couples and mixed-nationality families, particularly hard.
Whilst the United Kingdom in November 2018 rolled out a pilot programme to enable its 3.6 million residents who are EU-27 nationals to adjust their legal status, the numerous problems that have come to light should give pause to EU-27 governments that are less far along in contingency planning. EU-27 countries hastily conceived of their contingency plans in the run up to the original March 2019 deadline, and they remain largely untested and skeletal, authors Meghan Benton and Aliyyah Ahad find.
‘If the March “dress rehearsal” raised red flags all over the continent over Brexit (un)preparedness, this is the time to fix them’, they write.
With the clock once again winding down on a new Brexit deadline of October and no resolution in sight, the policy brief examines what progress has been made across the EU-27 on citizens’ rights planning. The brief, On the Brink: Prospects for UK nationals in the EU-27 after a no-deal Brexit, finds a host of administrative, legal and political challenges could arise in the case of a no-deal Brexit; recommends strategies for what could be done now to close gaps in legislative frameworks and registration systems; and considers what lies ahead.
The brief argues that to smooth the process, Member States will need to ensure their systems for registering UK nationals are inclusive. This could mean dropping some official criteria that have been used to deny EU nationals’ residence permits (such as income and health insurance requirements) or making registration possible online. Whilst UK consular services have been active in reaching out to Britons living in Europe, they will need to redouble efforts to engage hard-to-reach groups such as pensioners and students, and to work with national, regional and local governments in the EU-27 to get the message out to people who have disengaged from the Brexit process.
Meanwhile, Member States could consider introducing grace periods for those who do not meet tight application timeframes, as well as additional safeguards and robust appeals processes for those who either fail to meet the deadline or have applications rejected. And flexible requirements, such as giving people the option to provide untraditional forms of evidence of residence (social media records, for example), are preferable to blanket refusals that create a large irregular population.
‘Conversations about the fate of UK nationals living in Europe after Brexit are not happening in a vacuum’, the authors write. ‘Brexit is a litmus test for free movement as a whole—one of the European Union’s most celebrated achievements. Ensuring that UK nationals do not suffer for having exercised this right could be a precious opportunity to reinforce the value of EU citizenship—and of being a member of the club in the first place’.
The policy brief, commissioned as part of the MPI Europe project ‘UK Nationals Abroad after Brexit’, which is funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, can be read here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/uk-nationals-eu-27-no-deal-brexit.
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