Catherine Bearder MEP writes…Why we want to let Brits keep their EU passports after Brexit

Last weekend the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference voted to support Guy Verhofstadt’s proposed initiative to allow Brits to keep their EU citizenship (if they want to!). Lib Dems believe that with our country split nearly 50/50 on our EU membership, it would be unfair to allow the process of leaving the EU to completely ignore the wishes of the side that narrowly lost and who want to continue with the EU.

But it is not simply an issue of fairness that we are asking for Brits to be allowed to apply for EU citizenship. It is that as liberals and pro-Europeans we believe that this Conservative Brexit Government should not rip away someone’s identity, assuming that that was the wish of Leave voters in a referendum that was won on lies and misinformation (something that former Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings admitted recently).

Many young people are desperate to travel Europe and seek out opportunities to study, meet new people, learn languages and new skills. Can the people who voted Leave deny their children, grandchildren and their grandchildren’s children the right to do this? The fact that 75% of 18-24 year olds voted remain means that young people genuinely do care about their EU citizenship and won’t give up their demands for the retention of it easily. Car

On top of that, almost two million Brits currently live, work or are retired on the continent. For many of them this vote has caused nothing but panic and confusion as they now have to consider the impact Brexit might have on their families, businesses, property and retirement. These Brits were told by previous governments that they had the right to go and live in the EU, now they have been let down by Theresa May’s administration who has left them in the dark about their futures for now over nine months.  I hope that this citizenship initiative offers a glimmer of hope to them.

But we would be kidding ourselves if we think this idea is simply going to sail through the negotiations – while EU citizens rights in the UK are in limbo, it is highly unlikely either the 27 EU governments, or the European Parliament would accept an associate citizenship deal for Brits. If we want a reciprocal arrangement as such we must first guarantee the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Theresa May has kept her cards very close to her chest on this issue by refusing to say what will happen to these people. This is a cruel act by her as this is a humanitarian issue and should be about ensuring human beings are not treated as political bargaining chips. I will be seeking to have EU and UK citizen’s rights to be decoupled from the main Brexit negotiations and dealt with in a separate bilateral deal.

I, along with many of my colleagues here in the European Parliament have received heartfelt letters and emails from British nationals living across the continent and EU citizens living in the UK, of all ages and backgrounds, expressing their fears on how Brexit will affect their identity, livelihoods and fundamental rights. These letters are not just from “remainers”, or “remonaers” or even “remainiacs” as those still adamant about staying in the EU have been called, they are mainly concerned parents and grandparents who now fear for their children’s futures.

Let me be clear, an associate status for EU citizenship is not the Holy Grail. Lib Dems still believe that the people should have a final say on the Brexit deal with the option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper. We voted to leave the EU without any clear indication on where we would go next, we believe the Government should trust the voters to assess the deal on offer and decide whether this what they really voted for. That may mean we exit anyway, but at least as a country we can say, we made that decision in full knowledge of what course Brexit would take us and move on.

There is no doubt that getting the idea of retaining some form of citizenship through negotiations will tough. Introducing a scheme like this would require treaty change and the EU’s institutions will want to consider what precedent this sets. But these obstacles can be overcome, what is crucial now is that the EU shows it can adapt to change and serve the people who cherish its existence and want to be part of its future.

If you support this idea it would be very wise to write to not just UK MEPs, but all the MEPs. The Brexit resolution will be voted on in the European Parliament in a few short weeks and we need to get a majority backing of MEPs to get this idea through the parliament.

* Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Leader of the European Parliament Liberal Democrat Group.

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  • Obviously this sounds attractive for Brits whose EU citizenship is going to be taken away from them by their government. But how could it possibly work? Where would be the reciprocity considering that EU27 citizens will clearly not be getting associate British citizenship? Why should the EU27 give Brits rights not enjoyed by other non-EU citizens (including free movement in the EU?). How could this possibly fly? Please would somebody explain.

  • Richard Hall 26th Mar '17 - 5:27pm

    I firmly believe in this because there should be certainty for every Brit abroad and every EU citizen in the UK. I’m not naive to the reality that the other 27 nations will weigh up their own national interests in EU negotiations, but I believe that we should offer an olive branch and this goodwill gesture can be a step in the right direction.

    What we need to challenge is the ideology of meanness coming from the Tories on this though, that they would rather betray the wishes of British people whose aspirations have taken them to foreign shores, because of their need to win over UKIP supporters back home. The Tories have stopped governing for everyone, they are firmly entrenched in a form of Trumpist populism.

  • Laurence Cox 26th Mar '17 - 7:42pm

    Dr Laurence Godfrey has set up a web site which should shortly contain a template letter to be customised according to need and sent to the EU Council explaining why the writer objects to Article 50. This would fit well with writing to MEPs expressing our support for Guy Verhofstadt’s associate citizenship proposal.

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Mar '17 - 9:05pm

    “can anyone find precedents for large scale revoking of citizenship?”

    I think virtually every Immigration or Nationality Act of the twentieth century would constitute a precedent.

  • Andrew Tampion 27th Mar '17 - 8:07am

    As a thought experiment what precedent is there for citizenship to be imposed without consent. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to be a citizen of the EU (whatever that really means) or being given the option to opt out. For the avoidance of doubt this is not to be taken as meaning that I necessarily object to EU citizenship.

  • Another day reading LDV and another sigh!
    Is it dual citizenship some of you might be seeking?
    Sounds like some might prefer just to be European citizens. If put to the test, would you be prepared to relinquish British citizenship to get European citizenship status?

  • Peter Watson 27th Mar '17 - 9:30am

    This looks like something that even the most ardent Brexiter would love: the right to travel, work and buy property freely within Europe without the pesky reciprocity that made many of them vote the way they did. Which is why, frankly, it all seems a bit unlikely but great for those of us with the resources to take advantage of it (the liberal elite?).
    However, I would suggest that “while EU citizens rights in the UK are in limbo, it is highly unlikely either the 27 EU governments, or the European Parliament would accept an associate citizenship deal for Brits” has it the wrong way round. Surely, however unappealing it might be, if you want to negotiate for the benefit of associate citizenship you need to use the plight of EU citizens in the UK as a bargaining chip?

  • You do not need to be in the EU to travel or buy property in other countries. Most major cities have people from all over the world working and owning property. Americans, Russian, Japanese and Chinese amongst other own property and work all over Europe. None of these countries are in the EU. EU citizenship was not primarily about travel or work, it was about creating a European identity somewhat akin to a national identity.

  • Steve Comer 27th Mar '17 - 8:41pm

    Pat – sorry you are sighing, but as one of those UK citizens in another EU country who wrote a ‘heartfelt letter’ to Catherine Bearder, I can answer the questions you pose:

    “Is it dual citizenship some of you might be seeking?”
    In effect YES, but in reality I just want to retain the EU Citizenship I already have.

    “Sounds like some might prefer just to be European citizens.”
    You can’t do that at the moment, as EU Citizensahip is additional to national citizenship

    “If put to the test, would you be prepared to relinquish British citizenship to get European citizenship status?” YES (but subject to the caveat above).

    The problem many of us have is that we have legal residency permits as EU Citizens, but cannot claim nationality in the Country where we live until we have lived there for 5-7 years. At the moment we can do that as EU Citizens, but if we lose our citizenship, and right of abode after Brexit, we will never be able to qualify!

  • Actually, I’m not sure that I would mind giving up my UK citizenship for a EU citizenship if a separate EU citizenship existed. In fact, I might even be tempted to go one step further if the UN could be convinced to create a framework for Global Citizenship and formally declare myself as a Global Citizen.

    I understand that some people find that idea threatening. I just don’t feel the same. I find it exciting and liberating. Those supporting Brexit who are telling us it doesn’t matter whether we lose our EU citizenship often give examples of other citizens from around the world visiting and working. They seem not to be able to understand this fundamental difference between us. I don’t want my citizenship limited to one country and its borders. I don’t want false boundaries between me and the person five miles away in a different country. I am a human being and so are they. I want to OFFICIALLY belong to larger, more inclusive groups of diverse people and citizenship is a good way of achieving that goal.

    In essence, it boils down to openess which is a personality trait. Some of us feel threatened by strangers and change and some of us are exhilarated by it. Currently, fear is probably a reasonable feeling that we should show compassion towards. However, it shouldn’t prevent us laying pathways and building bridges towards those larger, more inclusive forms of citizenship.

  • Peter Watson 28th Mar '17 - 2:39pm

    “Some of us feel threatened by strangers and change …” Lib Dems, Remainers, and half of Labour?
    “… and some of us are exhilarated by it.” SNP, Tories, Brexiters, and the other half of Labour?

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