Brexit: Britons in Europe pin hopes on UK parliament as MPs to get vote on no-deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers on Wednesday they would be able to vote to block a no-deal Brexit as anxious Britons around the EU hope an effort to force the UK and EU to protect their citizens' rights succeeds.

Brexit: Britons in Europe pin hopes on UK parliament as MPs to get vote on no-deal
An amendment could help protect British nationals' rights in the EU. Photo: AFP

Theresa May told MPs on Wednesday they would get to vote on both a no-deal and extending article 50 if MPs fail to back her deal by March 12th.

“The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29th March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome,” said May.

If MPs reject leaving without a deal they will then be able to vote to extend Article 50, albeit by only a few months.

Given it appears there is a majority in parliament against the UK leaving without a deal, May's commitment should be positive news for Britons throughout the EU, whose futures would have been far more complicated in the event of a no-deal.

Britons had been watching Westminster closely given that Conservative MP Alberto Costa has tabled an amendment that would force British Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a deal with the EU to ring-fence the citizens' rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement before Brexit Day on March 29th.

If that deal is passed then at least most of the rights of British citizens in the EU and Europeans in the UK would be protected even if Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal.

For the move to succeed, Costa's amendment must first be selected for debate by the speaker. Although given it has already won the support of 130 lawmakers from all parties hopes are high that the amendment will be chosen among others.

That includes around 60 Conservative MPs including ardent Brexiteers like Jacob-Rees Mogg. And on Tuesday it emerged Labour MPs would back Costa's amendment.

Reports on Tuesday suggest MP Alberto Costa will likely be forced out of the Conservative party over his efforts to protect citizens' rights.

But he is adamant that something must be done.

“We have people getting job offers now for jobs next month and they have no idea what their rights are. It’s a farce. Enough is enough,” Costa said.

Campaign groups British in Europe and The3Million, which are leading the fight for citizens' rights in the EU and the UK have worked with Costa to win support for his amendment. Brits living in the EU have been encouraged to write to their MPs asking them to support the move if it comes to a vote.

Their message to MPs is 'it's time to stop using us as bargaining chips in negotiations'.

The citizens' rights part of the withdrawal agreement was agreed on in December 2017 and rubber stamped in March last year however it currently it would stand for nothing unless the overall withdrawal agreement is ratified by the British parliament.

While the citizens' rights part of the agreement ensures Britons can continue to live, work, retire in the EU and gain access to healthcare and uprated pensions it doesn't guarantee all the rights Britons in the EU currently enjoy such as onward freedom of movement.

European countries have moved to protect the rights of Britons in the event of a no-deal but the rights they would have are far less than those guaranteed in the withdrawal agreement.

If the amendment is passed there is still a long way to go. There is no guarantee Brussels would agree to ring-fence the citizens' rights deal and hasn't shown any great enthusiasm to do so up until now, despite persistent efforts from campaigners.

In her statement to MPs on Wednesday Prime Minister Theresa May said:  “A separate agreement for citizens’ rights is something the EU have been clear they do not have the legal authority for.”

“If it is not done in a Withdrawal Agreement, these issues become a matter for member states unless the EU were to agree a new mandate to take this forward.”

“At the very start of this process the UK sought to separate out this issue, but that was something which the EU has been consistent on.”

“I urge all EU countries to make this guarantee and end the uncertainty for these citizens.”

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Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

With ongoing uncertainty over whether UK driving licences will continue to be recognised in Italy beyond the end of this year, British residents are asking where they stand.

Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

Many of The Local’s British readers have been in touch recently to ask whether any progress has been made in negotiations between the UK and Italy on a reciprocal agreement on the use of driving licences.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the background of this Brexit consequence.

READ ALSO: Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

When Britain left the EU there was no reciprocal agreement in place, but UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences. This period was later extended to the current deadline of December 31st, 2022.

The situation beyond that date however remains unclear, and concern is growing among the sizeable number of British nationals living in Italy who say no longer being allowed to drive would be a serious problem.

There was the option of exchanging licences before the end of 2021, but many didn’t make the deadline. As has been proven before, this was often not due to slackness but rather all manner of circumstances, from having moved to Italy after or shortly before the cut-off date to bureaucratic delays.

Driving licences: How does the situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

So is an agreement any closer? Or do those driving in Italy on a UK licence really need to go to the considerable trouble and expense of sitting an Italian driving test (in Italian)?

With five months left to go, there’s still no indication as to whether a decision will be made either way.

The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test – while also stressing that they’re working hard on reaching a deal, which would make taking the test unnecessary.

This message has not changed.

On Wednesday, July 27th, British Ambassador to Italy Ed Llewellyn tweeted after a meeting with Italian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini: “The British and Italian governments continue to work towards an agreement on exchange of driving licences.”

But the ambassador earlier this month advised UK nationals “not to wait” and to “take action now by applying for an Italian licence”.

In an official newsletter published in mid-July, Llewellyn acknowledged the concerns of British residents and confirmed that negotiations are still going on.

“I know that many of you are understandably concerned about whether your UK driving licence will continue to be recognised in Italy, especially when the extension granted by Italy until 31 December 2022 for such recognition expires.

“Let me set out where things stand. The British Government is working to reach an agreement with Italy on the right to exchange a licence without the need for a test. 

READ ALSO:  Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

“The discussions with our Italian colleagues are continuing and our objective is to try to reach an agreement in good time before the end of the year.

“We hope it will be possible to reach an agreement – that is our objective and we are working hard to try to deliver it. 

Nevertheless, he said, “our advice is not to wait to exchange your licence.”

“If you need to drive in Italy, you can take action now by applying for an Italian licence. This will, however, involve taking a practical and theory test.” 

He acknowledged that “the process is not a straightforward one and that there are delays in some areas to book an appointment for a test”.

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

“We will continue to work towards an agreement,” he wrote. “That is our objective and it is an objective we share with our Italian colleagues.“

The British Embassy in Rome had not responded to The Local’s requests for further comment on Friday.

The Local will continue to publish any news on the recognition of British driving licences in Italy. See the latest updates in our Brexit-related news section here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.