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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

Member comments

  1. Just FYI, the hyperlink in “the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders” won’t show up for me as a subscriber to TheLocal.fr. It says it requires a separate subscription to the Norway version of The Local. It would be lovely if you could fix that.

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For members

BRITONS IN SPAIN

FACT CHECK: Spain’s ‘£97 daily rule’ isn’t new nor a worry for British tourists

The British tabloids are at it again causing alarm over the so-called '£97 daily rule’ which Spain is apparently imposing on UK tourists, who in turn are threatening to ‘boycott’ the country. 

FACT CHECK: Spain's '£97 daily rule' isn't new nor a worry for British tourists

American playwright Eugene O’Neill once said: “There is no present or future – only the past, happening over and over again – now”.

In 2022, The Local Spain wrote a fact-checking article titled ‘Are UK tourists in Spain really being asked to prove €100 a day?, in which we dispelled the claims made in the British press about Spain’s alleged new rules for UK holidaymakers.

Two years on in 2024, the same eye-catching headlines are resurfacing in Blighty: “’Anti-British? Holiday elsewhere!’ Britons fume as tourists in Spain warned they may be subject to additional rules” in GB News, or “’They would be begging us to come back’: Brits vow to ‘boycott Spain’ over new £97 daily rule” in LBC.

The return of this rabble-rousing ‘news’ in the UK has coincided with calls within Spain to change the existing mass tourism model that’s now more than ever having an impact on the country’s housing crisis.

Even though Spaniards behind the protests have not singled out any foreign nationals as potential culprits, the UK tabloids have unsurprisingly capitalised on this and run headlines such as “Costa del Sol turns on British tourists”.

READ MORE: Why does hatred of tourists in Spain appear to be on the rise?

What is the so-called ‘£97 daily rule’?

Yes, there is theoretically a ‘£97 a day rule’, but it is not a new rule, nor one that applies only to UK nationals specifically, and not even one that Spain alone has imposed (all Schengen countries set their financial means threshold).

As non-EU nationals who are not from a Schengen Area country either (the United Kingdom never was in Schengen), British tourists entering Spain could have certain requirements with which to comply if asked by Spanish border officials.

Such requirements include a valid passport, proof of a return ticket, documents proving their purpose of entry into Spain, limits on the amount of time they can spend in Spain (the 90 out of 180 days Schengen rule), proof of accommodation, a letter of invitation if staying with friends or family (another controversial subject in the British press when it emerged) and yes, proof of sufficient financial means for the trip.

Third-country nationals who want to enter Spain in 2024 may need to prove they have at least €113,40 per day (around £97), with a minimum of €972 (around £830) per person regardless of the intended duration of the stay. It is unclear whether this could also possibly apply to minors.

The amount of financial means to prove has increased slightly in 2024 as it is linked to Spain’s minimum wage, which has also risen. 

Financial means can be accredited by presenting cash, traveller’s checks, credit cards accompanied by a bank account statement, an up-to-date bank book or any other means that proves the amount available as credit on a card or bank account.

Have Britons been prevented from entering Spain for not having enough money?

There is no evidence that UK holidaymakers have been prevented from entering Spain after not being able to show they have £97 a day to cover their stay, nor any reports that they have been asked to show the financial means to cover their stay either. 

17.3 million UK tourists visited Spain in 2023; equal to roughly 47,400 a day. 

Even though British tourists have to stand in the non-EU queue at Spanish passport control, they do not require a visa to enter Spain and the sheer number of UK holidaymakers means that they’re usually streamlined through the process, having to only quickly show their passports.

The only occasional hiccups that have arisen post-Brexit have been at the land border between Gibraltar and Spain (issued that are likely to be resolved soon), and these weren’t related to demonstrating financial means. 

Therefore, the British press are regurgitating alarmist headlines that don’t reflect any truth, but rather pander to the ‘they need us more than we need them’ mantra that gets readers clicking. 

To sum up, there is a £97 a day rule, but it is not new, it has not affected any British tourists to date, and it is not specific to Spain alone to potentially require proof of economic means. 

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