Dear Pierluigi and Marco,
First I should like to thank Pierluigi very much for calling in response to my e-mail. You reassured me that Italy wanted to keep the procedures for UK citizens in Italy after Brexit as simple as possible, asked me to set out our specific concerns and agreed that we should keep in touch over the next months about these matters.
We understand that there is to be a meeting of the EU27 countries on 25th May to discuss the schemes that will be used to evidence the rights of those UK citizens who fall within the Withdrawal Agreement, and it is therefore timely that those resident in Italy should make their views known to the Italian government at this stage.
You will, we hope, forgive us for setting out in this letter some matters which will be well known to you both in view of your close involvement with the negotiations. We do so because the letter may be read by some without that same history of involvement, and because the existence of two options for registration is barely discernible from the March 18th draft agreement itself.
Registration – which scheme?
Paragraph 16 of the Joint Report of December 8th 2017 made it quite clear that there were to be two options available to EU27 countries for people to evidence their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. One was to be a new system under which people would apply for a new residence status (“the constitutive system”). This, as is well known, is the option which the UK has always insisted upon and it was included in the Joint Report very much at the last minute as an option for EU27 countries as well. The alternative is for countries to “continue with the present system” – that is to say the declaratory system set out in Directive 2004/38 – so that those who are already registered would not need to go through such a process all over again. This is the system strongly supported by the European Parliament.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement of March 18th 2018 is intended to reduce the Joint Report into enforceable legal form. Article 17 of the draft sets out at great length the new constitutive system which will apply in the UK and can, at Member States’ option, also apply in individual EU countries. Right at the end of the Article is the short paragraph 4 which acknowledges the alternative available to Member States, namely to continue with the system of registration under Directive 2004/38.
British in Italy strongly urges the Italian Government to opt for the continuation of the present system rather than to create a whole new system of registration simply for UK citizens. This course is, in our view, in the interests both of Italy and of UK citizens living and working here. Our reasons for saying this are:
1. Italy has been one of the countries which has operated Directive 2004/38 to the full, and has required registration in accordance with the Directive and Italian law of all those living here for 3 months or more. It is not, therefore, one of those countries like the UK or indeed France which never had a registration scheme. For Italy, then, the scheme has the benefit of having stood the test of time and of being familiar to the staff of the comuni throughout the country which will deal with UK citizens post-Brexit.
2. By contrast, the introduction of a new scheme will require new processes to be devised and set out in a new law, new software to be designed, tested and introduced, a new scheme to be explained to staff throughout the country and to be implemented in a relatively short period of time. The UK is well ahead of its EU counterparts in devising such a system, but it is still going to be many months before it will be ready to roll it out.
3. Estimates of UK citizens resident in Italy vary from some 30,000 to some 65,000. To devise a wholly new system to register these people when there is a perfectly adequate registration scheme already in place would not appear to be a sensible way to spend scarce time and money. In the UK, by contrast, there are something like 3.5 million people to register.
4. UK citizens living in Italy have understandable concerns about being required to produce evidence of their right to do so all over again. We are pleased to say that we have been made most welcome in Italy and have not experienced the “hostile environment” which migrants to the UK are subjected to (as rightly argued by the3million long before the recent scandal over the Windrush generation of legal migrants to the UK). Nevertheless we share some of the concerns which Italians in the UK have expressed in connection with Brexit, including to the joint committee of the Senato last year. These concerns are:
a. The difficulty which some people will experience in providing documents to show their right to be in the country, particularly when they have already been living here for many years.
b. The difficulties which are likely to be experienced in the administration of a wholly new system. Bureaucracies do make mistakes and these are likely to be far more extensive if a new system has to be implemented than if the existing system, under which we are all required to register once we have been here for 3 months, is simply continued.
c. The local basis on which registration is carried out in Italy also means that there is a risk of variations in practice from comune to comune.
d. We have heard reports of some variations even under the existing system, as well as some clear misunderstanding by officials of the legal impact of Brexit long before it has even become effective. These can only increase if a new system is introduced.
5. All UK citizens living in Europe and EU citizens living in the UK have already had nearly two years in limbo, with doubts over their future which cause considerable unease and make it impossible to plan their lives. There should be no doubt about the anxiety and stress that this situation has already caused, anxiety which will only be prolonged if we all are required once again to go through the process of justifying our presence in the country which we are proud to call home. For some, particularly the elderly, this anxiety is extreme.
For all these reasons, then, we strongly hope that Italy will opt for the continuation of the existing declaratory system of Directive 2004/38.
Consultation if there is a new registration scheme
If, however, Italy decides to opt for a new registration scheme, we very much hope that there will be the fullest consultation with UK citizens in Italy on the detail of that scheme. As you will be aware, the Home Office has had a consultation scheme going in the UK since last autumn, and the3million and other groups interested in the rights of EU citizens in the UK have been fully involved throughout. We would hope to be among those consulted if Italy decides to devise something similar. British in Italy’s committee includes a dual qualified solicitor/avvocato integrato with a practice which includes residence and citizenship matters, and a retired barrister who has been closely involved in British in Europe consultation at EU/UK level on these matters, not to mention lay committee members with extensive contacts in their local communities in Italy. We also have in place systems such as newsletters and social media through which we can quickly take the pulse of the feelings of UK citizens living and working here.
The other issue on which we would like information and further contact is applying for Italian citizenship. This is seen by many as the only way of safeguarding our future given (i) the denial of freedom of movement under the existing draft Withdrawal Agreement and (ii) the continuing uncertainty over the negotiations. Many of us have applied or are considering applying for citizenship, but as that process is quite complex and expensive (we make no criticism of this, but state it as a fact), people need to be clear about the position before applying.
Brexit does, of course, have a radical effect on our right to obtain Italian citizenship by residence, since the 4 year period of required residence for comunitari is extended to 10 years in the case of extra-comunitari. Assuming that at some point UK citizens will be treated as extra-comunitari, our questions here are:
1. Will all those UK citizens living in Italy and covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (ie broadly those resident here before the end of the transition period) still be treated as comunitari for the purposes of the 4 year rule?
2. If not, when will the cut-off be?
3. Will calculation of the residence requirement for citizenship be similar to that which will apply to applications for permanent residence under the Withdrawal Agreement? That is, will a UK citizen in Italy covered by the Withdrawal Agreement be able to count residence both before and after the end of the transition period?
4. What will be the position of those who are entitled to and have applied for citizenship before the cut-off date, but whose applications have not been processed by that date?
What we have written above about registration takes the form of representations urging Italy to take a particular course. What we have written about citizenship, on the other hand, is a series of questions which we would like to discuss with the appropriate officials. We would be grateful if you would let us know with whom we should be discussing these questions.
As ever, we are grateful to you for your concern over these matters.
British in Italy