What lies ahead for Brits in Italy has been the cause of uncertainty for some time. The community of between 26,000 and 65,000 – according to which estimate you go with – has been seeking reassurances on how the Italian state could react in the event of a no-deal for some time through grassroots campaign groups such as British in Italy.
At least 60 Brits were in attendance at a Q&A with British Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris at the British School at Rome on Monday November 26th in a tense encounter. Luigi Vignali, director general for Italian citizens abroad at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Marco Peronaci, Italy's Brexit secretary, were also in attendance and offered some welcome reassurances to those present.
“The work that has been done on citizenship rights will not be lost even if there is no agreement,” Peronaci told the audience of mainly Brits, in response to a question as to how Italy would act should the UK parliament reject the proposed Brexit deal. Should that happen, Brits in Italy could become third country nationals on March 30th and lose a spate of rights related to residence, work, pensions, health insurance and much more.
In what will also no doubt be received as welcome news by Brits in Italy, Peronaci's colleague Luigi Vignali said Italy would likely opt for a declaratory system, one of the options outlined in Article 18 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement outlining the EU and UK's post-Brexit relationship.
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This would mean the status of British residents in Italy would simply be acknowledged by their local 'comune' or council, avoiding the need to go through a completely new registration process. Campaigners feared any completely new procedure would create red tape headaches for both the council and citizens.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Vignali said the system would probably not be digital, but an announcement about it could be made as soon as the day after the scheduled December 11th UK parliament's vote on the Brexit deal.
The UK and the EU reached a draft 585-page agreement this month after 18 months of negotiations. But the hard bit, observers note, will be getting parliamentary approval for the deal in a highly-divided political climate in the UK. This leaves the potential of a no-deal exit firmly on the horizon.
Vignali could not offer any guarantees on how the new decreto sicurezza, a law currently been discussed by the Italian senate that would see several alterations made to how foreigners acquire citizenship, would affect Brits. That proposed law envisages extending the period in which the government must finalize citizenship applications from two to four years, which could adversely affect Brits.
Another key concern for Brits in Italy is whether their applications for citizenship would continue to be treated as applications by EU nationals after March 30th in the event of a no-deal. EU citizens can apply for citizenship after four years of permanent residence; it's 10 years for non-EU residents.
“Applications by UK citizens are likely to continue to be treated as EU national applications after March 29th in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Minister of the Interior is very aware of the request and is eyeing a possible exception for UK citizens,” said Vignali.
Ambassador Jill Morris also proffered potential good news to those Brits who live in Italy but work in another member state. Negotiating onward movement would remain a “priority” for the British government in the next phase of the negotiations, she said.
Both Vignali and Morris acknowledged that should the UK exit the bloc without a deal, “reciprocity would be the key”.
Both also suggested that, should a deal be approved by the UK and the EU27 parliaments, both parties would be keen to negotiate the reciprocal right for Brits in Europe and EU citizens in the UK to vote in local elections. This could mean that Brits in Italy would retain the right to vote in local and municipal elections.
Ambassador Morris was also keen to stress that the current Vote for Life bill, currently undergoing the various stages of scrutiny in the UK parliament, would re-enfranchise 3.5 million Brits worldwide if passed into law. Under current law, Brits resident outside the UK cannot vote in UK elections after 15 years of not being registered. Between 1.2 and 3.5 million Brits in Europe were not able to vote in the Brexit referendum.
Foreign affairs official Vignali said that approval of the deal by parliament in the UK would be “the starting point for recognizing the rights of Brits in Italy.” He added that should this not happen, “reciprocity will be the key for any possible deal in the far off lands of a no-deal.”
In such a scenario, three options would be available to the Italian state to deal with the British community it hosts, suggested Vignali. Rights could be ring-fenced, a bilateral deal could be arranged, or a possible unilateral law (decreto legge) could be passed, similar to legislation France, Germany and Holland, for example, have enacted.