House of Lords European Affairs Committee
Following the oral evidence session on 16 May where our Co-Chair Jane Golding represented British in Europe, we are pleased to see that the committee has written a strong letter to the Home Secretary copying the Foreign Secretary.
You can watch the oral session here:
The full letter can be downloaded below and it includes most of the key points raised. Lord Woods requests a response by 26 June.
"UK citizens’ rights in the EU
Residence schemes in EU Member States
In our 2021 report we identified a “mixed picture” with regard to how the rights of UK citizens were being upheld in EU Member States. The evidence that we have considered for this follow-up work indicates that this assessment still holds true. While residence schemes appear to be operating relatively smoothly in some EU Member States, we have been made aware of serious problems in others. Jane Golding, Co-Chair of British in Europe, identified high refusal rates for late applicants to the constitutive systems for securing residence rights under the Withdrawal Agreement in Sweden and Denmark. In the case of Sweden, Ms Golding told us that the current refusal rate is around 60% with the reasons given by UK citizens as justification for missing the original deadline typically being refused.
Several cases of refused applications for residence for UK citizens in EU Member States have recently come to light that involve vulnerable people. Ms Golding referred to the case of a British woman with Alzheimer’s living in a care home who was threatened with deportation from Sweden, and to a case involving a family of four with young children. Professor Michaela Benson of Lancaster University explained to us that the consequences of refused applications can be multiple, including restrictions on access to services as well as potentially being asked to leave a territory.
We ask you to indicate what representations the Government has made to the Commission and counterparts in individual Member States where high refusal rates for applicants to constitutive systems for securing residence rights under the Withdrawal Agreement have been reported, including Sweden and Denmark.
We heard that UK citizens in some EU Member States have experienced difficulties with requirements to upgrade from ordinary to permanent residence (the equivalent of upgrading from settled to pre-settled status in the UK). Ms Golding highlighted the case of Malta, where young people are required to renew their residence permits at the age of 18. She told us that some have been “told that their cards cannot be renewed, either because their status is unclear and they are being told they may have overstayed or because they have been asked to provide documentation from scratch to prove their status”. She drew an analogy with the situation in the UK concerning EU citizens with pre-settled status moving to settled status, which was the subject of the December 2022 High Court judgment.
In light of the UK High Court judgment regarding the expiry of pre-settled status, we ask you what assessment the Government has made of arrangements for UK citizens to upgrade to permanent residence in EU Member States where this is required, and what support is available to help UK citizens negotiate this process.
Issues with securing appropriate documentation have also been reported by UK nationals in Portugal. Ms Golding characterised the application process there as “late and not-fit-for-purpose”, with problems relating to payment for residence documents and officials incorrectly issuing documents valid for five years instead of ten years.
We urge you to raise systemic issues relating to the rights of UK citizens under the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Commission as they arise and ask you to provide us with an update on what recent discussions have taken place with the Commission on these matters, including at the most recent meeting of the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights.
We heard that UK citizens had frequently experienced issues while travelling between the EU and the UK, particularly in 2022. Ms Golding told us that the “biggest issue” is “misunderstandings by Schengen border officials and associated police forces of the different types of residence documents for different member states”. She indicated that this had resulted in some “serious cases”, including an example of charges for an alleged immigration offence being brought incorrectly. She said that it had also caused “a lot of emotional stress, because not all British citizens understand the rules or are confident enough when they face challenges by border officials”.
We urge you to work with the European Commission and the authorities in EU Member States to ensure that guidance to border authorities is made as clear as possible, and ask you provide an update on any recent discussions.
As with the Government’s planned ETA system, the EU’s proposed Electoral Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) can be expected to have an impact on travel between the UK and the EU, affecting UK nationals with residence rights in EU Member States as well as tourists and business visitors. Ms Golding anticipated “teething problems” and emphasised the need for “good, clear, precise information about who needs to do what and when, and clear information to border guards on withdrawal agreement beneficiaries”.
We ask you to provide us with your assessment of the possible implications of the EU’s proposed introduction of the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) for UK citizens travelling between the EU and the UK, and to update us on what steps are being taken to ensure that this does not result in disruption to travel between the EU and the UK for this group.
Support for UK citizens
We are very concerned to hear that resources to support UK citizens in the EU on citizens’ rights issues have been scaled back substantially since we conducted our inquiry in 2021. Ms Golding told us that both UK Government support and EU Member State support was being “reduced drastically”, at the same time as a “rise in serious and complex cases”. She added that it is now “a bit of a lottery as to whether British citizens get any real help from their local embassy”, because dedicated funding for citizens’ rights officers in individual Member States ended in March 2023, leaving embassies increasingly reliant on voluntary organisations for evidence of the situation on the ground. Ms Golding called on the Government to “realise that around 1.32 million [UK citizens in the EU] are also their responsibility and that they need to step up support to afford these citizens the protections they deserve”.
Several stakeholders were critical of the Government’s decision to close the UK Nationals Support Fund, which provided funding to non-governmental organisations in some EU Member States to support residence applications from UK citizens. Professor Benson said that since this has closed there is now “no dedicated resource for organisations to draw on” to support vulnerable UK nationals to secure their status under the Withdrawal Agreement. Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, similarly told us that this decision “means that many vulnerable people may no longer be able to access the support they need”.
We ask you to provide us with an update on the resources available to UK embassies in EU Member States to support UK citizens facing citizens’ rights issues and for clarification on any changes to the funding allocated to support citizens’ rights officers. We urge you to ensure that sufficient resources are in place to provide consular support to the substantial number of UK citizens that continue to face challenges associated with exercising their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.
We ask you to explain the rationale for reducing substantially the Government funding available to support UK citizens resident in the EU on citizens’ rights issues, including by closing the UK Nationals Support Fund, at a time when there has been a rise in the number of complex cases.
The IMA monitors UK public bodies to make sure that they uphold the rights of EU and EEA/EFTA citizens as well as their family members in the UK and Gibraltar, but there is no equivalent independent body in the EU to perform this role in respect of UK nationals in EU Member States. The formal role of monitoring the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement for UK citizens in the EU is instead performed by the European Commission. We are sympathetic to the view expressed to us by Ms Hawkins that this leaves the Commission effectively “marking its own homework” and that it would be preferable for there to be an independent body, similar to the IMA.
We acknowledge that in the short-term it is unlikely that a new independent body will be established in the EU. It is therefore essential that non-governmental bodies that provide independent support to UK citizens in the EU on citizens’ rights issues are able to access sufficient funding to operate effectively.
We ask you to provide us with an indication of what Government funding, if any, is currently available to non-governmental bodies that support UK nationals in EU Member States on citizens’ rights issues, whether the Government considers this to be sufficient and whether there are any plans to offer any additional funding.
Thank you for your consideration of this letter. We ask you to reply by 26 June 2023."
25 May 2023
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