What to do if you're a UK national in the EU

AS WE go live online, it's still hard to offer any up-to-date advice to our many members who are UK nationals in the EU, our many EU national members in the UK, as Brexit looms. It's now just three months away.

Bin Brexit banner

'Bin Brexit, not my future' banner on a People's Vote march in London in June 2018.

The EU Settlement Scheme, under which EU nationals in the UK will have to apply for permanent residency, will go ahead regardless of whether there's a final exit deal between the EU and the UK or not. See our advice to EU nationals in the UK on this.

The Citizen's Rights bit of the EU Withdrawal Agreement - endorsed by the EU in November but yet to be put to a vote in the UK Parliament - confirms that free movement within the EU will continue until the end of the 31 December 2020 transition period.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, EU nationals will have permanent residency rights in their "host state" - the EU member state where they live. This is underpinned by advice from the European Commission on maintaining citizens' rights. The UK has chosen to make EU nationals apply to register via an EU Settlement Scheme (see here.). But it's up to the individual member states to decide whether they will require UK nationals to register or whether it will make them permanent residents automatically, as many EU member states seem to be doing.

UK nationals "lawfully residing in another EU Member State on 31 December 2020" will be able to seek permanent residence in the EU member state where they live. Close family members will still be able to join them after that, as will children including those as yet unborn. The UK Government has some not-especially-detailed advice for UK nationals in the EU by country.

But all the above provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement depend on a deal being reached. The Bill still has to be signed off by the UK Parliament (unlikely). Let's not forget that the 27 EU member states and the European Parliament also have a vote on the final deal - the European Parliament has long threatened to veto it over the issues of citizens' rights and environmental protection.

Other possible outcomes are a Norway Plus agreement that keeps the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA) with freedom of movement (less likely); the UK government being sent back by Parliament to propose another deal (impossible to predict and ruled out by the EU 27); the UK crashing out with no deal at all (more likely) or no Brexit at all (becoming more likely).

Meanwhile, what should our UK national members in other EU member states do? Most EU member states have a compulsory population register that everyone is supposed to sign up to whenever they move house. This makes it very easy to establish who is resident in that country, but it also means that UK nationals in the EU have to ensure their entry in the population register is up to date.

The Netherlands, for example, recently announced that it will shortly start sending out - by post, to the addresses it currently has on the population register - invitations to UK nationals to get in touch with its Immigration and Naturalisation Service.

The government of Spain has reportedly indicated that it is "is seeking to reach deals that will guarantee rights to residency, healthcare and the recognition of academic qualifications" for the 300,000 UK nationals in Spain and the 116,000 Spanish nationals in the UK, even in the event of "no deal".

France's Immigration Minister pledged back in November that "British living in France do not brutally find themselves in an irregular position" in the event of "no deal". The Republic had a Bill before its National Assembly as of late December that would allow British nationals working as state school teachers to keep their "civil servant" status after Brexit. This is seen as an emergency measure in the event of "no deal", so it's expected that France may make other concessions to UK nationals in a "no deal" scenario.

Germany and the Netherlands have passed or are planning legislation that will allow UK nationals exceptions to naturalistion laws after Brexit. They will be able to become citizens of those countries and to keep their British passports after - but with a time limit up to the end of the 31 January 2020 transition period.

We have a bizarre warning for UK nationals facing Brexit uncertainty who become dual national citizens of another EU country, though. The 2014 Immigration Act allows the UK Home Secretary to strip them of their British citizenship if the Home Secretary deems them to be "not conducive to the public good"!

Their nationally can be stripped on the basis of suspicion alone. Serveral dual-national British citizens - including aid workers in Syria - have had their citizenship wrongly taken away and later restored after a judgement by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. Dual-national journalists who cover chaotic confict zones should be aware that their intentions there could easily be misconstrued, leading to suspicions that they are terrorists - enough to strip them of their UK citizenship and leave them stranded.

The immigration services or foreign ministries of many EU countries already have webpages - in English - for UK nationals keeping them up to date, with email newsletters you can sign up to. Seek these out.

There's no clear detail yet on UK nationals in European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) countries Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway, nor on their nationals living in the UK. (The UK Government seems for the moment determined to leave the EEA and EFTA as well as the EU.) The UK Government advice says the same that will be "enjoyed" under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement "could be extended" to EEA nationals and to UK nationals in the EEA, but so far it has only "discussions" to report.

The future of UK nationals in Switzerland (and Swiss nationals in the UK) looks even more vague. The UK is "seeking to secure the same protections for UK nationals living in Switzerland as for UK nationals living in the EU, on a reciprocal basis, through an agreement with Switzerland."