The likely timetable
Firstly, given the large Tory majority, it is very likely that the October version of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) will be passed by the UK parliament in January, or possibly even sooner. It then has to be ratified by the European Parliament, but it’s now pretty much a given that the UK will leave the EU on 31st January 2020 and that the WA will come into force then. The WA foresees a transition period that will run from 1st February 2020 until 31st December 2020. It also contains an article (Article 132) which would allow an extension of 1 or 2 years – if that is requested by July 2020.
Citizens’ rights and the WA
The citizens’ rights section of the WA remains almost entirely unchanged from the original version agreed by Theresa May a year ago, and it is this part of the Agreement that will cover the future legal rights of British people who are legally resident in an EU27 country on the last day of the transition period. (however long that turns out to be) The Agreement is EU wide and, although each EU27 country will institute its own procedures for things like residence cards etc, each individual EU country must respect the WA’s set out provisions.
Under the WA, most of our rights remain wholly unchanged until the end of the transition period, so at least until 31st December, 2020. This includes freedom of movement meaning it will still be possible for people to move freely from the UK to the EU, or within the EU during that period. We do however lose the right to stand and vote in local and European elections from Brexit day, i.e. as of 1st February 2020.
**What’s important to note is that once the Withdrawal Agreement is in force, we will be covered by it for our lifetimes whatever happens with future negotiations. So please don’t think that the rights the WA provides for us are temporary – they are not; if you are legally resident in an EU country at the end of the transition period these rights will cover you for your lifetime.
Specific rights included in the WA
Crucially, the WA ensures not only the right to live and work in the country of residence at the end of the transition period, but also covers areas such as S1 healthcare rights, together with aggregation and uprating of pensions. The WA agreement also says we will be able to leave our host country for up to 5 years without losing our right to return.
The WA does not cover everything, however. If you want a quick overview on exactly what it does and doesn’t cover, have a look at this article that Kalba Meadows wrote recently for France Rights – it’s equally applicable to us in Germany.
Dual citizenship in Germany
For those of us in Germany who meet the conditions to apply for German citizenship during the transition period i.e. up to 31st December 2020, there is an additional benefit. The German government passed a law which entitles us, if we meet the conditions and apply for German citizenship during that time, to keep our UK citizenship as well. This is normally only an option for EU citizens.
And finally, for the avoidance of any doubt or confusion here’s 3 important points:
- The media doesn’t always help by using interchangeable terms for things that are quite separate. For example there is often reference made to a ‘deal’ to refer to the trade deal that has to be struck during the transition period, and the terms ‘no deal’ and ‘crashing out’ to a situation where no trade deal can be agreed. Confusingly, these are the very same terms that the media have previously used to denote the UK leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement, but the meaning is very different. Once the Withdrawal Agreement becomes law – expected on 31 January 2020 – then our future rights contained within it are guaranteed whatever happens with the future trade deal. So a failure to conclude a trade deal might be a ‘no deal’ situation for the UK, but not for British citizens living in the EU. This is important to be clear about and at the moment is the subject of much confusion and concern.
- Johnson is bringing to Parliament the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, and intends to use his majority to pass that Bill at second reading before the Christmas recess. In this Bill, he intends to insert a clause barring any extension to the Withdrawal Agreement’s transition period beyond 31st December 2020. BUT this Bill is NOT the same thing as the Withdrawal Agreement itself which has already been approved by the European Council and cannot now be amended without further negotiation (which is very unlikely to happen). The WA contains an article (Article 132) allowing an extension of 1 or 2 years to the transition period if it’s requested by July 2020. Clause 132 will remain in the WA even if Johnson’s bill passes with his proposed amendment barring an extension, which means that the UK government could agree to extend the transition period at any point up to July 2020 by passing a new bit of legislation.
- Once the WA becomes law, the ‘no deal’ legislation already passed in each of the EU27 countries becomes defunct, and we then have to wait for each country to publish details of how it intends to implement the WA for its British residents.
Further information sources:
- Here you can read the full Withdrawal Agreement itself
- Here you can read the German original legal text on dual citizenship: Brexit Übergangsgesetz
- British in Europe’s latest Newsletter “What the election results mean for us”
- If you are a member of the British in Europe Facebook Group, Kalba Meadows also posted information there on 14th December. She and Zoe Adams Green have also answered a number of questions there and you may find helpful. https://www.facebook.com/groups/britishineurope/
- British in Germany e.V. FB group now has over three thousand members and you can find live and sometimes helpful discussion there and on the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BritishinGermany/
Become a member of British in Germany e.V. here for only 15 Euros a year to support BiG’s advocacy and campaigning work and to get the latest up to date information on how Brexit will impact the lives of UK citizens living in Germany