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Setting the record straight: What post-Brexit rights do Brits have in Italy?

Citizens' rights groups in Italy have moved to set the record straight regarding the rights of British citizens in the country post-Brexit following numerous divisive and simplistic reports in the British media.

Setting the record straight: What post-Brexit rights do Brits have in Italy?
Photo: John Thys/AFP

“British in Italy found profoundly depressing the recent spate of copycat articles in the pro-Brexit British press about problems experienced by UK nationals in the EU,” read a statement from the citizens rights group British in Italy.

The articles, which included ones published in the pro-Brexit newspapers the Daily Mail and the Sun, were accused of being factually wrong as well as confusing British citizens living in the EU with British tourists or second-home owners.

“The quality of journalism in these articles was very poor with errors including confusing the position of those who are protected by the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement with that of tourists or illegal stayers, and multiple errors about our rights,” British in Italy said.

“The theme of the articles is best summed up by the Sun’s headline saying that these problems were the result of “Brexit revenge rules” introduced by various EU governments. 

“As we pointed out in our letter to the Sun (which of course they never published) “Italy has been slow to update its public computer systems …. and slow to issue the card which proves that we are resident, and these failures have led to some people losing work, being unable to buy or rent a home or get benefits. 

“This has caused them devastating problems which British in Italy is campaigning to get sorted, but none of it is “Brexit revenge” and nobody who knows Italy or Italians would dream of calling it that.”

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The same sentiments were echoed by Clarissa Killwick from the group Beyond Brexit – British citizens in Italy, who said: “Unfortunately, in some of the UK press, unrelated bureaucratic problems in Italy got “hijacked”, sharing the same, sometimes inflammatory, headlines. It is important to keep things in proportion. 

“In our group, which provides support and information on post-Brexit citizens’ rights issues, yes, we are still having problems reported almost on a daily basis. To add balance though, many individuals are managing to resolve difficulties, with say a house purchase, renewing a health card or getting a work contract.”

“Whilst some carta di soggiorno residency cards have now been issued, there remain delays because of technical issues with fingerprinting and lead times for getting appointments.

“It must also be said, hats off to the staff in the immigration offices all round the country for their patience and helpfulness that many of our members are reporting.”

Following the coverage and subsequent confusion, British in Italy gave the following information to set the record straight regarding the rights of British citizens in the country:

  • Those who were resident in Italy (or frontier working) before December 31st 2020 are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • This means that they retain all their old EU citizen rights in Italy other than the right to vote and the right to apply after 31/12/20 for a qualification to be recognised. Outside Italy we have lost EU freedom of movement and some other rights to initiate activity in the EU institutions.
  • It is not just those with permanent residence (soggiorno permanente) that have retained these rights.  Anyone who was resident at 31st December and continues to be so thereafter has them. Permanent residence is a status which we are entitled to after 5 years residence: this was true before December 31st and remains true now under the Withdrawal Agreement. The rights of permanent residents are in some respects better than those of people with less than 5 years residence.
  • Being obliged to register as resident is nothing new and has nothing to do with Brexit. In Italy everyone, whether Italian national, EU citizen or extracomunitario, is obliged to register their residence.
  • Italy is in the process of issuing a carta di soggiorno to those of us covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.  It is not obligatory but British in Italy is strongly advising people to apply for it, as it is the best proof of our status when we are asked by any official for a ‘documento’.
  • None of this is to be confused with the situation of those who arrived in Italy after December 31st, or were not regularly resident at that date. Like all other non-EU citizens they are subject to the Schengen visa rule that they can only visit for up to 90 days in any period of 180, unless of course they have a visa to work, settle, study etc.

Anyone in Italy who needs help regarding their rights post-Brexit is advised to contact the British Embassy via their Living in Italy website

You can also contact the International Organisation for Migration by emailing [email protected] or calling 800 684 884.

Find more information on the British in Italy website and Beyond Brexit page.

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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