A meeting to discuss  the ‘state of play’ of Brexit negotiations was held in the Cinema Caporale, Castiglione del Lago, on 30 January 2018.  Approximately 40 participants attended.  The meeting was addressed by Jeremy Morgan QC and Gareth Horsfall and Alison Jamieson chaired the meeting

Below is a copy of the minutes of the meeting.

Gareth Horsfall opened by giving the background to the development of the British in Italy group.

Together with  other groups in  the EU 27 and in the UK, people have begun to organise  to ensure the future protection of citizens’ rights after Brexit. British in Italy had four useful meetings with Italian politicians in 2017,  in contrast to France where such meetings have been extremely difficult to arrange.  Meetings were held with the Partito Democratico, then with other parties. In the PD the key invididual has been Sandro Gozi, responsible for European matters in the Renzi and then Gentiloni governments.  He is a dedicated European and multilingual.  The first meeting showed that Italians had very little idea of the implications of Brexit either  for UK nationals or for Italians in UK.   British in Italy aims to put pressure on governments on both sides. However with the Italian elections coming in March,  interlocutors are certain to change.

There has also been contact with the British embassy in Rome, although this has yielded little.  The ambassador’s position tends to follow the UK government line closely, and blames the EU for any road blocks. The  UK government is well aware of British in Italy and follows us closely.  Initially, the focus was concentrated on protection of rights but is now looking beyond this to issues such as dual nationality and route to Italian citizenship.  There has been a big upsurge of Britsh requesting citizenship, and a Facebook group has been started  called Italian citizenship which shares information  on this.

Gareth organised a British in Italy protest in Florence on September 22nd  to coincide with Theresa May’s arrival and speech.  It was well attended , despite official obfuscation of the timing and location of the event at Santa Maria Novella.  TV cameras around the world caught Gareth shouting ‘Protect our rights, Theresa!’ and he was later interviewd by Japanese, German, Chinese and US media amongest others.

On 23 February the UK parliament held a debate on the issue of ‘votes for life’ for British citizens.  A private members’ bill from  Tory MP Glynn Davis put the motion that the law denying British citizens  the right to vote after an absence of 15 years should be abolished.  Italian resident Harry Shindler, now 96 and tireless supporter of the lifetime right to vote was invited to speak on this subject in the House of Commons.  The bill has since gone through to a a ‘committee stage’ where detailed examination of the clauses will take place.  Although their is still some work to be done, the mood is positive that the bank on UK citizens not being able to vote in UK elections after 15 years may be lifted.  We remain hopeful.

Jeremy Morgan took over the microphone

British in Europe is is the spearhead for all the country groups in the EU 27 and aims to advance the case for citizens’ rights.  It campaigns closely with the3 million, representing EU citizens in the UK. The  coalition took off after four representatives of British citizens in Europe (including Gareth) and of  EU citizens living  in the UK gave evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee a year ago. BiE has been a real success story in terms of access to high level politicians and diplomats in both the EU and UK.   Its representatives met Michel Barnier just before the Article 50 letter was sent, and since then have had debriefings from both sides after each round of negotiations   Jeremy talked recently to Hillary Benn, Chair of the House of Commons  committee,  who said he didn’t have the same access as British in Europe.  Two days of meetings were scheduled in Brussels in early February between BiE and  the legal team from the Commission, as well as with heads of missions of several EU countries including the  UK,  MEPs, and  the press.   BiE has been successful for 3 main reasons :

1. It ensures that its campaign is always aligned with that of EU citizens in the UK
2. It does not challenge the idea of Brexit
3. It is led by individuals of high quality, extensive experience and  great determination.

The Chair of BiE, Jane Golding,  is a British citizen living in Germany.  She is a solicitor and an EU law competition  specialist.  The other vice chair (with Jeremy)  is a lawyer by training, lives in Luxembourg and  works as a lobbyist on health care issues.  Other key strategy team members are based in Netherlands, France and Spain , representing  Brexpats (NL), RIFT (Remain in France) and  Bremain in Spain  respectively. For those interested in the the ‘votes for life’ debate the RIFT and  Bremain in Spain websites have more information.

The December 2017 Agreement or Joint Report

Superficially it seemed that all the major issues had been agreed on.  In fact there was only partial agreement, sufficient for  the EU Commision to decide that’ enough progress’ had been made to move forward to the second stage of negotiations. Many things were deferred.  The  mantra of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ remains the EU position, and to this British government added that there could be no agreement unless there was an agreement in trade negotiations.   It is still possible that if there is no final agreement, then the December agreement will fall away too.

For many people the Joint Report agreed on in December 2017 covers the main rights they currently enjoy such as the right to reside, to healthcare, to continuing pension rights.  The good news from December was largely for pensioners, for whom existing arrangements on health care and on pension increases have been agreed.   It is fairly unlikely that there will be mass deportations.  The agreement provides for the right to bring a family member to live with you in an EU 27 country after Brexit (and vice versa), but at the moment does not confer the right to bring a partner to live with you whom you meet after Brexit.  In the UK  this will be subject to UK immigration laws which are quite strict.

Given that 70% of British in the EU are of working age or younger, and only 21% are retired, the Joint Report was extremely disappointing.  It provides for limited recognition of professional qualifications of UK qualifications in another EU country, but  there is no agreement on freedom of movement.  Thus if currently working in Italy you would not have the right to go  to work in another EU country.  Some people move constantly between  countries  including  IT contractors, lawywers, media workers and many others.  The resistance to freedom of movement comes from the EU, not the UK.  Related to the right of freedom of movement is the right to return.  There were differences over this but the December agreement provides for up to five years of absence with the continuing right to return to the country of residence. However a future spouse or partner will not have the right of permanent residence under this agreement.

The UK wanted ‘settled status’ for EU citizens, as defined by UK immigration laws.  It succeeded in as much as any EU country that wants to compel UK citizens to re-apply for the right to stay can do so.  Given the complications of Italian bureaucracy, this could cause complications for us in terms of the provision of documentary  proof.  The hope is that Italy will not set up a whole new system for the sake of 30-60,000 people.  While it seems rather unlikely here,  France and some other countries could do this.  For those who have yet to obtain permenant residence status they will have to show that they will not fall back on the social benefits system of the host country.  If some people only have a UK state pension they might not be able to prove that they can live on this.  But as Italian social security benefits are low by comparison with the UK, this  may well not be a problem here.

There are other ambiguities in the December agreement.  These include:

1. The definition of ‘legal residence’
2. The possession of dual nationality.  This can in fact deprive one of some EU rights.
3. Whether British returning to the UK will have the right to bring a spouse without him/her his meeting specified income requirements.  Will the Withdrawal agreement cover this?
4. Differences of approach between the Commission and the European parliament on several issues.  The European Parliament  does not agree with the December agreement  regarding frontier workers, ie those who regularly cross borders in the course of their working life – it wants full freedom of movement.   It also wants the European Court of Justice to have a longer period of jurisdiction in the UK than the expected transition period of around two years. Also It does not like  like the agreement on having to re-apply for the right to reside.

Transition Period

The nature of the transition period is an important issue, with implications for example for the recognition of professional qualifications. Another uncertainly is the status of the Joint Report, and whether  countries will  row back from already agreed rights.  There is a reasonable possibility of this.  The legal fall back position is that UK citizens become third country nationals.  Third country nationals have rights to long term residence in the EU which are similar to the permanent  right to reside but are not automatic.  Those applying may have to have proof of health insurance, for example, and there  could be a provision for language testing.  In the event of a no deal, things are pretty vague.

Questions from the floor:  Responses from Gareth and Jeremy. 

*  Dual citizenship and dual nationality are identical .  Spain does not permit dual nationality, nor do the Netherlands or Austria, so in Italy we are fortunate. In some countries such as Germany you can only have dual nationality if the other nationality is that of an EU country.  If applying for Italian nationality you are strongly recommended to do this before Brexit occurs, since the procedures for applying as an extracomunitario are different, for example the minimum period of residence required is 10 years.

*  A question was asked about the status of rights of extracomunitari resident in Italy , who are entitled to certain benefits and rights. The answer depends on the relationship between EU law and Italian national law.  If the UK leaves without a deal, EU law will be of no relevance to us and we would fall under the terms of the EU Directive on long term residence.

*  Regarding  the restoration of the right to vote to those disenfanchised by the 15 year rule,  it is not known how this might occur, ie whether this would be in the UK constituency  of last residence, or by creating an overseas constituency.  There was also some discussion of whether UK citizens would lose the right to vote in local elections  in the 27 countries after Brexit, which at the moment seems likely.

*  If Italy takes the option of making UK Nationals resident in Italy re-apply for residency then nothing is automatic. The British proposal is that EU citizens in the UK with ‘long term ‘right to remain’ will have an automatic right,  with the sole exception of a criminal check. As an  EU resident in an EU country you have the right to reside longer than three months if you have a job,  or health insurance and sufficient resources to prove that you are not a burden on the social services. . After five years this is converted to the right to permanent residence.  Once permanent residence has been issued you don’t have to show your level of income or proof of health insurance.  The likely post Brexit situation for one participant, a UK citizen whose spouse is not a EU national,  was unclear.

*  The question of ‘pet passports’ was raised.  It is likely that the arrangements to move animals to and from the UK will change, as will the right to drive in Italy with a UK driving licence.  Problems  might arise with the renewal of driving licences, health carWds etc. This is why we need to think about a post Brexit world.

*  It is not clear whether the substance of the Joint report of December will be brought into UK law before the conclusion of negotiations.  The EU seemed to imply this would be necessary.

*  Regarding citizenship, the Ministero dell’Interno has two years to process applications.  Gareth received acknowlegement of his after 5 1/2  months via notice that a ‘ status change’ had taken place, meaning he  had entered the process.  Some people have been asked much more quickly to go to the Prefettura to present hard copies of their documents – a sign that things are moving.   One participant said that anyone applying for citizenship might be asked for an old permesso di soggiorno, proof of tax payments, health provision contributions or other documents.

*  Regarding health  provisions there there are two systems : if you have worked in and are taking a pension from the UK you have a S1 form which means the UK government pays under the reciprocity agreement.  If you are a student you have to have private health insurance.  If you have paid into the Italian tax system you receive an EHIC and you have no need for private health insurance.

Close of meeting.