From the Farnesina to the British School at Rome, whose Imperial façade would have the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg slavering at the mouth. This time Delia and Jeremy were able to be joined by Zoe Adams Green, member of British in Italy but also Steering Committee member of British in Europe as a Council member of Bremain in Spain. The meeting was well attended by members of the British public as well as some Italians interested usually because of a British partner or close family member.
The meeting was addressed by the British Ambassador Jill Morris but interestingly this time she was accompanied on the platform by two representatives of the Italian government, both from the Ministero degli Affari Esteri. These were Luigi Vignali, Director-General of Italians Abroad and Marco Peronaci of the EU Directorate of the Ministry. Briotish in Italy has met Peronaci privately before. There was also a representative of the Ministero dell’Interno in the audience.
The introductory remarks by all speakers were largely routine. Vignali also wanted to stress how welcome British nationals were in Italy – “ We need you British..” and “…we want to do our best efforts to make you comfortable and preserve your rights.”
High points as far as BiI are concerned were:
- Vignali giving for the first time in public an official view on the procedure for registration under the Withdrawal Agreement (“WA”) on the assumption that it goes through. Close followers of Brexit will recall that the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) gives the EU states an option: they can either follow the British example and require everyone to apply for their rights all over again (the “settled status” model) or they can decide not to make us all apply for a new status but simply give us the right to receive a new document issued under the existing rules (the declaratory model). Whilst Vignali “could not say for sure” he did say that Italy was strongly inclined to go for the declaratory model, which is very very much better for all of us. In any event it would be a simple procedure. In questions he was asked when we would know Italy’s definitive position, and he said that there would be an internal consultation immediately after the UK Parliament vote. He did though say that reciprocity would be a key factor in their thinking – “ …there are 700,000 reasons to make your stay in Italy as simple as possible”. (It is not quite clear why uncertainty about ‘reciprocity’ should be a factor if the WA is ratified in Westminster: the UK already has detailed legislation in place providing for settled status.)
- No Deal. The other interesting developments were two snippets from the remarks of Vignali and Peronaci. In response to a question about what Italy would do in relation to us if there is No Deal, Vignali said he expected a coordinated EU response. Possible solutions were ring-fencing, a bilateral deal, unilateral action by Italy and, presumably as part of the latter, legislating by decreto. His response about the possibility of ring-fencing picked up an earlier remark by Peronaci that “the work already done on citizens rights will not be lost” even if the UK votes down the WA.
Taken together, these remarks show that Italy has not ruled out the possibility of ring-fencing the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement even if nothing else is agreed. Of course they were not saying that Italy was going to positively push for this solution, but even not ruling it out is an important step forward in the campaign which British in Europe and the3million have jointly run for ring-fencing as the obvious and simple solution to Citizens’ Rights if there is No Deal.
The commonest, and most strongly felt, questions from the audience were about the UK denying its citizens a right to vote after 15 years absence. Jill Morris referred to the private member’s bill going through Parliament on Votes for Life with government support, though she did not point out that it was unlikely to be in place in time for any People’s Vote. On voting she did say that the UK was hoping to do bilateral deals with EU27 countries giving a right to vote in local elections.
A member of the audience asked Vignali a question about the residence rights of people who were working on short fixed term contracts and so were not always in work. How would they be treated? He said he would have to enquire. He did say that the Italian government was engaged in preparatory work for the possibility of a No Deal, and that this was happening across the ministries that would be affected. He mentioned health, pension and education (about which there had been questions) as specific areas where such work was being done.
People also asked whether it would be necessary to supply more documents in existing citizenship applications, and Vignali again said he would have to seek advice.
Again on citizenship Vignali was asked whether UK citizens applying for cittadinanza before Brexit but whose applications had not been processed in time would have to satisfy only the 4 years residence required of EU citizens or the 10 years residence required of extra-comunitari. He said that in relation to applications already made and those made up to (he said “March 2020”, so not clear if he meant March 2019 or the end of transition in 2020), the 4 year residence rule should apply in his view, of which he was pretty confident. However this was a technical area and he cautioned that his view should not be taken as definitive.
In response to a question about visas Jill Morris said that both the UK and the EU had said that they wanted to avoid the need for UK citizens to have visas for short term (up to 3 months) visits (including for business).
Jill Morris mentioned the recent EU Commission notice saying that they thought that residence by British nationals as EU citizens should count towards the residence required as third country nationals in the event of No Deal. In that paper the Commission is encouraging the EU27 states to accept third country national applications from UK citizens now, even though we are not yet third country nationals. Vignali said nobody should try to register at the comune now: instructions would be issued after the UK vote in the event that the WA is rejected.
On the right of UK citizens returning to the UK post-Brexit to bring their EU or third country spouse with them Jill Morris was at first confused but then accepted that there would be no absolute right to do this, and in order to do so they would have to meet the income level required by UK immigration law. In response to a question pointing out that Italian citizens have an unfettered right to bring spouses to Italy, Vignali said rather worryingly that in order to achieve reciprocity Italy might have to change its law to exclude UK spouses from that right, but this seems to have been an off the cuff remark which BiI is not convinced was thought-through or likely to come to pass. It would create a very unusual form of discrimination which would be hard to justify legally.
The British Embassy has a series of meeting around Italy in the coming weeks and months as we lurch towards Brexit. Where we attend them we will update you with any new information although we think that they will be largely routine and an opportunity for worried citizens to speak directly to the Embassy officials and hopefully they can hopefully some concerns. We fully support this initiative and would encourage anyone to attend, where possible.
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