Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement does little to allay the concerns of Denmark-based British nationals over their future rights to remain and move freely within the EU, writes The Local columnist Peter Kenworthy.
The Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU could sacrifice the freedom of movement of UK citizens living in the EU, while the Danish immigration ministry has said that Copenhagen will decide what will happen to Brits in Denmark once negotiations are concluded.
In light of Brexit negotiations, discussion has emerged about a potential ‘Brexodus’, whereby the effects of Brexit leads to an exodus of EU citizens from the UK. But there is much less focus on the plight of the one million UK citizens living in the EU.
Nevertheless, UK citizens risk having to leave EU countries like Denmark, or have significantly less rights and basic needs if they stay. These are pressing worries for the 18,000 British citizens living in Denmark.
If there is a no-deal Brexit, UK citizens will become third country nationals who do not enjoy the right of free movement in the Schengen Area, and the EU Commission has proposed that British citizens will need a visa to enter the EU. The right to healthcare and other basic needs could also disappear.
Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeted the following on the day that the UK government accepted May’s withdrawal deal:
“Green light! Relieved that the UK government has now approved the deal reached by our negotiators. This is decisive for all European citizens and businesses. Now we have to study the text in more detail. Hopefully we’ll soon be able to shake hands on a solid agreement”.
Rasmussen had said in his parliamentary opening speech on October 2nd that Denmark is preparing for the eventuality of a no-deal Brexit, but that he hoped that “a good and balanced deal that will at least ease the worst effects of Brexit” could be negotiated.
He also promised in his speech “that no matter the end result of the negotiations, we will of course look after the thousands of British citizens living in Denmark today. This is only fair.”
The Danish government is, perhaps understandably, unwilling to be more specific than this right now.
The Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration told me in an email recently that the Danish government won’t decide what will happen to the 18,000 British citizens in Denmark in the case of a no-deal Brexit until after negotiations are finalized.
“It is not possible to inform you what specific rights British citizens [living in Denmark] will have after Brexit at present, nor in regard to potential changes in pensions, unemployment benefits, insurance, child care benefits etc. But the Ministry of Immigration and Integration will release such information in regard to citizens’ rights in a no-deal scenario as soon as possible”, the mail continued.
Withdrawal Agreement “provides certainty”
The merits of the 585 pages of the Withdrawal agreement, released on November 14th depend on your vantage point.
The UK Government’s recently updated guidance for UK nationals in the EU talks about how the Withdrawal Agreement “sets out the terms of the UK’s smooth and orderly exit from the European Union and puts us close to a Brexit deal”.
The agreement “will provide certainty for you as a UK national and your family living in the EU. Most importantly, it will allow you to stay in the EU country where you are living after the UK leaves the EU”, the guidance continues.
Article 10 of the agreement makes guarantees for UK nationals “who exercised their right to reside in a Member State in accordance with Union law before the end of the transition period and continue to reside there thereafter.”
UK Gov: broadly same as now
According to the UK government’s explainer on the agreement, UK citizens “will have broadly the same entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits as now”, and “where the UK, or a Member State, is responsible for the healthcare of those within scope of the social security coordination part of the Withdrawal Agreement, such individuals will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover from their competent country”.
The Withdrawal Agreement provides rules on social security coordination in relation to the beneficiaries of the citizens’ part of the agreement, and to other persons who at the end of the transition period, ending in December 2020, are in a situation involving both the United Kingdom and a Member State from the social security cooperation perspective.
Those persons will maintain their right to healthcare, pensions and other social security benefits, and if they are entitled to a cash benefit from one country, they may be able to receive it even if they decide to live in another country, the explainer says.
No deal disruption
The agreement is the best that could be negotiated between the UK and the EU and is in the national interest, Theresa May concluded.
The Withdrawal Agreement still has to be agreed upon by the UK Parliament and the EU member states, however, and it might easily be vetoed by the UK parliament. If this happens, and there is a no-deal Brexit, the rights that the agreement entails will be lost, along with a lot of other benefits.
Additionally, a whole array of things including flights, rail transport, coach services to and from the EU and reasonably priced mobile roaming in the EU could be disrupted, and UK citizens’ driving licenses may also no longer be valid in the EU.
Trade to and from the EU could also be disrupted, as a no-deal scenario would mean “immediate changes to the procedures that apply to businesses trading with the EU.”
This could interfere with anything from exports of animal products and organic foods, import of plant products and animal products, to commercial road haulage, cross-border electricity flows and the business of breeding animals.
No freedom of movement
And even if the Withdrawal Agreement is somehow okayed by both the UK Parliament and the EU countries, freedom of movement for UK citizens from one EU country to another is not specifically covered by it.
“It is necessary to provide reciprocal protection for Union citizens and for United Kingdom nationals, as well as their respective family members, where they have exercised free movement rights before a date set in this Agreement”, it says in the preamble of the agreement. But otherwise it more or less avoids the issue.
In a press release, the largest coalition group of British citizens living and working in Europa, British in Europe, and the3million, an NGO formed to protect the interests of EU citizens living in the UK, said that they were disappointed that “the Brexit negotiators failed to deliver their promise to agree a deal that would allow people to carry on living their lives in exactly the same manner as before Brexit”.
“Crucial issues such as freedom of movement for British citizens in Europe and lifelong rights to return remain unsolved in the agreement presented by Theresa May”, the press release said.