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Discussion at Europe House: "Uncertain Future: Rights and Citizenship in post-Brexit Britain"

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13/01/2017
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One of the greatest questions that surrounds Brexit is how it relates to the current and future residence and citizenship rights for EU nationals. Have there been actual changes in the status of EU nationals since the referendum? Will the rights of EU citizens living in the UK change after Brexit? The European Parliament Information Office in the UK, jointly with UCL European Institute, recently hosted a debate on the matter entitled "Uncertain Future: Rights and Citizenship in post-Brexit Britain".

The event, which took place at Europe House in London, was moderated by the BBC News presenter Martine Croxall. Martine began with a question about changes since 23rd June. “The fact is that nothing has changed”, the barrister Schona Jolly acknowledged. “There is no change in the law, the legal position has not changed and the uncertainty is all to come”, Ms Jolly said.

All the panellists agreed about the complexity of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, which represents unprecedented legal challenges. “This is a union of 28 countries ... which covers a whole range of law”, Mary Honeyball MEP pointed out, emphasising the variety of issues that will need to be negotiated. Ms Jolly drew some historical comparisons but warned that they can only take us so far. “We are trying to unpick over 40 years’ worth of legislation” she said.

Nonetheless, the Director of Graduate Research Studies at UCL Institute for Human Rights, Dr Virginia Mantouvalou, clarified that there were plenty of rights that will remain unchanged. “The referendum has nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe”.

For instance, Dr Mantouvalou pointed out that the European Convention on Human Rights includes provisions such as the respect for private and family life and the right to private property. Brexit is unlikely to affect them. Furthermore, Mary Honeyball MEP highlighted the fact that laws on maternity leave and rights for pregnant women originated in European legislation, so the UK will have to decide how to incorporate them into UK law.

Regarding the future rights of UK nationals within the EU, the lecturer in Law at the University of Reading, Dr. Ruvi Ziegler, pointed out that after Brexit the vast majority of UK citizens will cease to be EU citizens and therefore to enjoy the rights associated with the European Union citizenship. According to Dr Ziegler “this is part of the reasons why we see certain initiatives ... to create some sort of status that would rectify that predicament.”

Following the debate the audience had a chance to share their opinions and present questions to the panel. The conclusion drawn from their comments was that uncertainty dominates the question - a situation that the audience and the panel thought would continue until further details on the future relationship between the UK and the EU are known.