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Citizens’ Rights Contents

Chapter 4: UK citizens in the EU

183.As we have discussed above (see paragraphs 15–20), EU Member States have adopted a mixture of declaratory and constitutive systems for British citizens seeking to access their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. An overview of progress in implementing these systems is contained in the Fourth Joint Report on the Implementation of Residence Rights under Part Two of the Withdrawal Agreement (published 29 June 2021), from the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights.203 As we have earlier described (see paragraph 36), the European Commission performs the role of monitoring compliance in Member States. In addition to receiving complaints about alleged compliance breaches, the Commission also produces its own annual report alongside that produced by the Independent Monitoring Authority in the UK.

184.Jane Golding of British in Europe, the largest coalition group of British citizens living and working in Europe, gave the following summary of the situation: “Implementation is progressing better than expected in some countries—for example, in France where the system seems to be working very well—and less well in other countries such as Italy and Portugal.”204 She also expressed concern about the delays UK citizens were experiencing in some countries:

“A general theme in many countries is the length of time it is taking to process applications—of course, COVID is playing a part there—and for either residence cards in declaratory countries or residence permits in constitutive countries to be issued. It is rising in declaratory countries such as Portugal where our latest information is that, so far, no cards have been issued. In Italy, which is declaratory, it has been slow, but in constitutive countries such as Denmark, where implementation generally is going quite well, the issue of cards is slow.”205

185.British in Europe (BiE) also provided summaries of the rollouts of the declaratory and constitutive systems in many of the Member States.206 The organisation highlighted difficulties in many countries, including in Italy, where, among other problems, “The government failed to issue a clear authoritative statement that … we do not need a residence permit.” In Germany, BiE told us:

“A proportion of the many highly-integrated UK citizens in Germany are likely not aware of what they may need to do to secure their status. This group may have minimal or zero contact with other UK citizens in Germany and it is highly unlikely that German members of their family or circle of friends will have any awareness as there has been little or no coverage in the German media.”207

186.Turning to other EU Member States with large populations of UK citizens, BiE highlighted problems in Spain relating to “widespread deviation at a local level from the government’s position” concerning what residence cards UK citizens should have,208 and France, where issues included “long delays in dealing with applications at préfecture level” and a “total lack of publicity from [the] Ministry of the Interior”.209

187.Not all UK citizens who spend time living in the EU are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. A group representing British multi-country residents explained that UK citizens who are mainly resident in the UK, but who also own homes in EU Member States, had “largely been overlooked and left unprotected by the Withdrawal Agreement”.210 As free movement had now ended, and visa-free travel under the Agreement was only permitted for a maximum of 90 days, second home-owners had the choice of either “registering (or retaining their current registration) as a resident and hope the host country allows them to keep using their home freely … or use their home as a tourist and comply with the requirement to be absent for specific periods in between visits (90 days in a rolling 180)”. In short, second home-owners tend to spend too much time in Europe to qualify as tourists, but not enough to qualify as residents.

Calculating UK populations in EU Member States

188.The numbers of UK citizens resident in the EU27 vary considerably between Member States. For example, there are an estimated 359,000 British citizens living in Spain and 148,300 in France, but fewer than 1,000 in Lithuania, Croatia or Slovenia.211 As the House of Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union observed, “The size of the population in each Member State is relevant. Larger populations may present a greater challenge in terms of the administration of any scheme in limited time.”212

189.Our witnesses were therefore concerned that the numbers of UK citizens in certain EU countries were not being properly calculated. Dr Michaela Benson, of the BrExpats Research Project, explained the problems were caused by the way statistical data about UK citizens in the EU were being gathered:

“Some member states draw their statistics about the number of resident British citizens from registration data while others draw theirs from census data. Registration data will exclude anyone not registered (for residence as EU citizens.) The accuracy of this measure will depend on the extent to which (a) registration is compulsory and (b) access to services, employment, and welfare rely upon this. In other words, there are likely shortfalls in the numbers of people registered versus the number of British citizens living in a member state before Brexit.”213

190.Dr Benson continued:

“In states where this was compulsory and where access to other services is contingent on registration, a greater proportion of the British population are likely to be registered (e.g. Germany, The Netherlands). While in those countries where registration was not compulsory (e.g. Spain) and where access to services was not contingent upon this, significant proportions of the population will be unregistered (by some estimates, up to 30%).”214

191.Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, a pro-EU campaign group which supports British migrants living in Spain and across Europe, explained the uncertainty over the numbers of UK citizens in Spain:

“In Spain, the population currently is about 380,000. It is the largest population in the EU of British citizens. The figure has gone up by 90,000 over the last five years. In 2020 alone, it went up by 20,000, so lots more people are becoming registered, but we do not know what the real numbers are. A long-standing issue in Spain is that nobody has ever really known the true number of Brits living there; it has always been assumed to be two or three times the official number, so in theory it is up to 1 million people.”215

192.Dr Benson told us of similar uncertainties relating to the UK population in France:

“France is slightly unusual even among constitutive systems because … the statistics we had were drawn from census data and not registration data, which effectively means that there is not necessarily a good understanding of where those people are located in France. None of these statistics will count the hard-to-reach populations; they will not be able to include homeless populations, looked-after children and anyone living under the radar. There are people who have been living their lives in France and have not had to be particularly bothered about making themselves known to the authorities, because they have been able to live quite easily without doing so. That is a real issue.”216

193.It is clear there are problems in identifying accurately how many UK citizens are resident in some Member States and where exactly they live. We urge the EU Commission and the UK Government to do all that they can, when engaging with Member States on citizens’ rights, to ensure that host countries do not miss sections of their own UK national populations. The UK government should also engage with the EU Commission as the monitoring authority within the EU. This engagement should continue after the expiry of constitutive Member States’ deadlines: missed UK citizens may only be identified at this time, with serious consequences for the individuals concerned.

Combining statuses with Withdrawal Agreement rights

194.UK citizens with rights under the Agreement can also hold other rights at the same time. As BiE noted, such rights can include status as a long-term EU resident, which provides mobility rights.217 There are also dual nationals, who having “exercised their free movement rights as a British citizen when moving to the country where they are living are still covered by the WA [Withdrawal Agreement]”. The organisation highlighted the importance for many UK citizens of being able to do this:

“For many, combining statuses is essential. For example, a dual national may need the enhanced WA provisions on family reunification or recognition of qualifications. A nondual citizen, on the other hand, may wish to obtain EU long term residence in order to have mobility rights whereas the WA provides none.”218

195.But BiE also explained that many UK citizens face difficulties proving their multiple statuses:

“In many Member States there is no satisfactory means of proving one’s right to concurrent statuses in one or both categories. There are particular concerns for dual nationals in constitutive countries where they are not able to apply for the status and yet the status is only granted on application.”219

Declaratory systems

196.The UK Government’s ‘explainer’ on citizens’ rights under the Withdrawal Agreement describes declaratory systems in the following terms:220

“In a declaratory residence system, a residence status is given directly to those in scope of the Withdrawal Agreement by operation of the law and is not dependent upon completing administrative procedures. A decision by the host state is not required to have status under the Withdrawal Agreement. However, those eligible for status have the right to receive a residence document confirming this and there may be an obligation under national law to register for a residence document, which evidences the status.”

197.Data on applications received from UK residents in EU Member States with declaratory systems, published in the Fourth Joint Report of the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights in June 2021, are given in Table 1.

Table 1: Applications from UK citizens for a new residence document in EU Member States operating declaratory systems

Host State

Estimated number of UK residents

Total of applications received

Total of applications concluded

Report date

European Union

768,200

212,300

171,800

12.06.21

Spain

381,400

150,100

142,500

01.06.21

Ireland221

115,000

87

87

30.04.21

Germany

100,000

No data

No data

11.06.21

Cyprus

38,500

1,400

800

07.06.21

Portugal

34,500

29,200

No data

31.05.21

Greece

34,000

10,100

9,800

12.06.21

Italy

32,800

7,900

6,500

08.06.21

Bulgaria

10,000

8,000

7,900

02.06.21

Czechia

9,400

1,800

1,500

30.04.21

Poland

6,500

2,000

1,200

31.05.21

Slovakia

2,800

900

800

31.05.21

Estonia

1,500

189

180

31.05.21

Croatia

1,100

433

421

31.05.21

Lithuania

700

181

154

02.06.21

Source: European Commission, Fourth Joint Report on the Implementation of Residence Rights under Part Two of the Withdrawal Agreement from the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights (June 2021): https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/fourth_report_draft_final_version_for_publication_en.pdf [accessed 14 July 2021]. Annex B (extract) – Statistical information for host States with a declaratory system: “Figures in these tables have been reported by EU Member States and are provisional, subject to change and dated according to each national system. Figures are rounded to the nearest 100, therefore table breakdowns may not match overall totals, unless where the figure is lower than 500.”

198.In its report Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: citizens’ rights, published on 14 October 2020, the Commons’ Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union noted:

“British in Europe, a coalition of organisations representing UK nationals in the EU, has expressed a preference for countries to adopt a declaratory system with registration, and the ability to apply for a card to provide evidence of residence status. In such a system, for those who qualify under the Withdrawal Agreement, rights cannot be lost because a deadline was missed.”222

199.While witnesses acknowledged that there were no hard deadlines in declaratory systems, compared to constitutive systems, they nevertheless drew attention to some problems affecting UK citizens in these countries. In respect of Spain, Sue Wilson told us:

“We have a bigger population, and a bigger population of vulnerable older citizens as well, so there have been a lot of delays. I recently applied for my own residency. I started to look for an application back in October and obtained my new identity card only in May. That is a fairly typical example of some of the delays that are causing problems.”223

She described the delays as “severe”, explaining that they had been made worse because Spain “had one of the strictest COVID lockdowns, and that has had a big impact on the ability to process an increasingly large and unexpected number of applications”.224

200.Sue Wilson also told us about the consequences for UK citizens if they did not secure proof of residency under the Spanish system by 30 June 2021:

“They cannot apply for a Spanish driving licence without taking a test, which would be an issue for those who do not have Spanish language skills because the test is in Spanish. There is also a knock-on effect, in that people relying on … health cover, or wanting to apply for it, cannot register that cover with the Spanish authorities, so, without their residency, they cannot get free healthcare. That is a particular concern for people with pre-existing conditions who require lots of medications. In some cases, they are thousands of pounds out of pocket because they have to pay for it themselves while they wait to get residency. Although there is no deadline as long as you can prove that you were legally resident before the end of transition, many people are unable to do that, or thought they could but then found that they cannot.”225

201.Witnesses also identified issues with decentralised administrative systems in declaratory countries. Jane Golding told us:

“We see challenges sometimes in declaratory countries … particularly where there are large numbers of UK citizens in EU populations and where implementation is decentralised. Examples are Germany, Spain and Italy. In Germany, implementation is the competence of the regions; national government can simply issue guidance, and there are about 400 different foreigners’ offices across the country.”226

202.Commenting on the overall operation of declaratory systems in Member States, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister Wendy Morton MP observed that, because citizens’ rights in those countries were “conferred automatically by operation of the law … the risks posed to UK nationals are lower, when compared with the requirements of a constitutive system. This is positive, as 72 per cent of UK nationals in the EU, totalling 768,200 people, live in countries operating this system.”227

203.At the same time, the Minister noted: “The compliance of administrative procedures in declaratory systems are … a concern in some cases … We have been working closely with Member States, such as Spain, and the European Commission, through the Specialised Committee, to resolve these issues, and to ensure the Withdrawal Agreement is upheld.”228

Constitutive systems

204.In a constitutive residence system, individuals within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement only gain a residence status if they make a successful application for one in their host state. As with the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme, failure to apply by the specified deadline in these countries will mean individuals’ residence rights are not protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.229

205.Thirteen EU Member States operate constitutive systems, with varying deadlines, from 30 June 2021 to 31 December 2021. Data on applications received from UK residents in countries with those systems, published in the Fourth Joint Report of the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights in June 2021, are set out in Table 2.

Table 2: Applications from UK citizens for a new residence status in EU Member States operating constitutive systems

Host State

Estimated number of UK residents

Total of applications received

Total of applications concluded

Report date

Deadline*

European Union

298,200

223,400

102,000

18.06.21

France

148,300

140,900

109,300

28.05.21

30.06.21

The Netherlands

45,000

37,800

37,400

31.05.21

30.09.21

Belgium

22,400

4,500

1,600

31.05.21

31.12.21

Denmark

19,000

7,200

4,500

31.05.21

31.12.21

Sweden

17,000

9,000

6,400

08.06.21

30.09.21

Malta

13,600

9,200

7,700

18.06.21

30.06.21

Austria

11,500

5,100

3,600

30.04.21

30.04.21

Hungary

6,000

1,000

800

31.05.21

31.12.21

Luxembourg

5,300

4,000

3,300

12.06.21

30.06.21

Finland

5,000

3,400

1,700

15.06.21

30.09.21

Romania

3,000

600

600

31.05.21

30.09.21

Latvia

1,200

500

450

31.05.21

30.06.21

Slovenia

900

188

176

31.05.21

30.09.21

* The information in this column has been added by this report and does not appear in the original table.
Source: European Commission, Fourth Joint Report on the Implementation of Residence Rights under Part Two of the Withdrawal Agreement from the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights (June 2021): https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/fourth_report_draft_final_version_for_publication_en.pdf [accessed 14 July 2021]

206.Commenting on the data in the Fourth Report about applications in constitutive countries, Minister Wendy Morton MP observed “the latest statistics are encouraging, showing that 223,400 UK nationals and their family members have applied. This is good progress, representing 75 per cent of the estimated 298,200 UK nationals resident in constitutive countries.”230 The Minister also spoke positively about the systems in The Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg, but expressed concerns about the system in Malta telling us: “I do not consider these administrative procedures to be compliant with the Withdrawal Agreement and our officials have raised this with the European Commission and the Maltese government.”231

Late applications

207.Late application policies vary in each Member State, and witnesses drew attention to uncertainty about the consequences of missing deadlines in countries with constitutive systems. Jane Golding confirmed that “reasonable grounds for late application provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement apply to all constitutive countries … but we do not yet know what the reasonable grounds are”.232 Dr Benson added: “In a situation where there are intermediaries making decisions about reasonable grounds, they need to be provided with some guidance about what those would be. As yet, that guidance has not been issued.”233

208.We note that while the Fourth Joint Report on the Implementation of Residence Rights makes reference to Member States’ late application policies, it does not always make clear whether certain countries have issued or plan to issue specific guidance about how they will make reasonable grounds decisions in response to late applications.

209.Dr Benson was also concerned that many UK citizens who missed the deadline could lose their rights altogether:

“The consequences of not applying by these deadlines are that people will lose their rights to the provisions offered by the Withdrawal Agreement. To secure their residence status they may have to use alternative routes such as applying through domestic immigration controls, which have a far higher bar when it comes to eligibility requirements than is expected of those who lawfully exercised their rights to Freedom of Movement under the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement. There is a risk that those who do not register will become undocumented.”234

210.Asked about the steps the Government was taking to help ensure UK citizens did not miss the deadlines in constitutive countries, Wendy Morton MP told us:

“We continue to engage as much as we possibly can and ensure that the message is out there that the deadlines are ahead of us. We have a very comprehensive communications plan aimed at reaching out to as many different groups as we possibly can. Our network of embassies and consulates continues to carry out events to reach out to those citizens. It is important to reiterate that the support we give is intended also to complement and support the communication of EU Member States.”235

She added that EU Member States had to have “a comprehensive reasonable grounds policy in place, enabling those who miss the deadline for a good reason to secure rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.”236

211.As of June 2021, the published data for the progress of UK citizens’ applications across both declaratory and constitutive systems presents a mixed picture. In some Member States this appears to be progressing well, while in others problems exist, including where the number of applications received is significantly lower than the estimated UK population in that country. This is in contrast to the UK, where the number of applications made under the EUSS vastly exceeds the estimated population of EU citizens.

212.Clearly, there is much work still to be done. We therefore call on the EU Commission and the UK Government to work closely with EU Member States to ensure that where UK citizens are at risk of missing an application deadline, or have already done so, they are promptly identified and supported to access their rights.

213.In contrast to the UK authorities, many EU Member States have not yet issued guidance on the approach they will take to late applications. Given the importance of this information to UK citizens, we ask the Government to continue to work with its EU partners to ensure that guidance about late applications is available for UK citizens in every Member State with a constitutive system.

Biometric residence card

214.Some witnesses underlined the importance of the biometric card, provided by all Member States to UK citizens as proof of residence. Jane Golding said: “Once you have that card, you have a physical document in your hand with which you can prove your status, however you have acquired it—whether you have had to apply for it or it simply derives directly from the Withdrawal Agreement.”237

215.She noted that the card would be particularly useful to UK citizens in accessing particular benefits and services:

“You will need that document to prove your residence rights and employment rights and when you are engaging with the health authorities, and for social security benefits, et cetera, and obviously when you are travelling. Without the card, it is far more difficult to move across borders.”238

216.Evidence from British in Europe highlighted the consequences for UK citizens of not having the card, even in Member States (such as Germany and Greece) with declaratory systems where it was not mandatory:

“The problems have not only been with officials, but also in other aspects of life where work contracts have not been renewed, bank accounts refused, the completion of a house purchase refused because the UK national has been unable to provide a WA [Withdrawal Agreement] card, even though they are in a declaratory country where the card is optional, and in many cases not available even for those who have applied for it.”239

217.Given the importance of the residence cards in enabling card holders to access a range of services and rights, Dr Benson underscored the need for agencies and individuals across the EU to recognise them:

“Lots of people will need to be able to recognise the new biometric cards and what they permit … This could range from a landlord to government officials. We hope that government officials would be well placed to recognise this, but we can imagine that the standard landlord, who might not have specialist knowledge of complex residence regimes and new situations, would decide to err on the side of caution in that respect. That could have quite a lot of implications for people.”240

She added: “There might need to be some additional communication work to make sure that all intermediaries are aware of new statuses and what the new documentation actually is and what it permits.”241

218.Minister Wendy Morton MP told us that she “welcomed the EU’s decision” to issue the card, noting: “This matches the EU’s wider approach to evidencing rights and while these documents could be lost and need to be renewed, they create welcome consistency for UK nationals across the EU.”

219.The EU-wide biometric residence card provides physical evidence for UK citizens living in the EU of their Withdrawal Agreement rights. In many circumstances, UK citizens will need the card to prove their right to residence and employment, as well as when engaging with the health and social security systems, and when travelling across the EU. The evidence we received from witnesses representing UK citizens living in the EU27 was clear: they welcomed the reassurance that this physical document provides.

220.We note that the Government welcomes the EU’s decision to issue a physical document to all UK citizens falling within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement, while resisting calls from many quarters to provide EU citizens with a physical proof of their rights under the UK’s system and ask it to clarify why it holds these contrary positions.

Communication issues in both constitutive and declaratory systems

221.Under Article 37 of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK and Member States are required to “disseminate information concerning the rights and obligations of persons covered by this Part, in particular by means of awareness-raising campaigns conducted, as appropriate, through national and local media and other means of communication”.242 This obligation applies whether a country elects to use a declaratory or constitutive system.

222.Prior to our inquiry, concerns had been raised about whether communications in some Member States have been sufficient to make UK citizens aware of what they need to do to access their rights under the Agreement. In his letter to Vice-President Šefčovič of 14 May 2020, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP said, “In contrast [to the UK’s communications], there have not been the sort of major media campaigns required under Article 37 in EU countries. Information available to UK nationals on government websites of EU Member States varies significantly in content, scale and accessibility.”243

223.Researchers and campaigners have also highlighted communications issues affecting both UK and EU27 governments. According to a report on British citizens in France, authored by Dr Michaela Benson, one of the witnesses to our inquiry:

“Official communications from the UK and French governments were slow to clarify what Britons living in France should do to secure their futures, and many have been unclear about where to turn for reliable information about specific concerns. They feel let down by the UK Government, while their encounters with the French state, often in local municipal offices, have created further confusion.”244

224.Jane Golding, giving evidence on 25 May, five weeks ahead of the 30 June deadline for applications in France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta, addressed the question of whether Member States were meeting their Article 37 responsibilities, as well as the difficulties caused by not having sufficient information, made more serious by the impending deadlines in constitutive countries:

“We think that a number of EU member states are likely to be at risk of breaching the information requirements under the Withdrawal Agreement—Article 37—due to the amount of information they have put out so far. France and Italy are two countries where we would have concerns, as is Luxembourg. I think that is because the bar has to be very high in this situation, particularly for constitutive countries with hard deadlines, because these are people who were legally resident under EU law until the end of 2020 and they are now having rights removed from them, and it is all happening during a pandemic. Where there is a particularly high bar, there is an obligation to inform through awareness-raising campaigns in national and local media, particularly in constitutive countries, and we are not always seeing that.”245

225.Also speaking about France, Dr Benson agreed:

“There are some real areas of concern about the information requirements … There has been very little publicity by the Ministry of the Interior. The website that contains the information about the registration process is incredibly basic, even though it is available in French and English, and it does not provide the appropriate technical information to people who will be applying. Further, there is no public guidance to individual prefectures about how they might make decisions around, for example, reasonable grounds for late applications. In France, the local prefectures are quite significant in the process.”246

226.On the UK Government’s engagement with the French authorities, Minister Wendy Morton MP told us:

“I have previously raised concerns with the Commission around the level of communications delivered by the French authorities; however, as 140,900 out of an estimated 148,300 residents have applied the message has evidently been reaching the majority of UK nationals. Furthermore, the French government have provided assurances that a high degree of flexibility will be shown to those who missed the deadline during the next three months.”247

227.Sue Wilson endorsed this view, in respect of UK citizens living in Spain: “The only concern is about communication. That seems to me the only area where there is a risk of breaching any obligations.”248

228.Asked whether she shared witnesses’ concerns about possible Member State non-compliance with the Withdrawal Agreement, the Minister said:

“All Member States have implemented and are applying the Withdrawal Agreement. Let us be clear on that. To that extent I do not envisage a systemic failure or any malicious suspension of the rights that we have protected. That said, we continue to monitor, as I am sure you would expect us to, any reports we receive of non-compliance, or of UK nationals in the EU who have experienced difficulty in evidencing or exercising or even accessing their rights. We continue to monitor that very closely.”249

The Minister went on to explain that the Government would “use the different channels we have—our network of posts across member states and the Specialised Committee—to continue to raise issues as they come up and make sure that citizens’ rights are a priority.”250

229.At the same time, the Minister did acknowledge that “a lack of communications and operational guidance has resulted in UK nationals experiencing difficulty evidencing their rights and being refused access to the benefits and services they are entitled to as beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement.”251 She told us that failures in some EU countries to communicate effectively with their UK populations was “in contrast to the £30 million spent by the UK on communications and support for EU citizens in the UK and the availability of operational guidance” online. She added that while there had been successes, “particularly in those countries who have sent letters to their residents, the majority of Member States have not carried out proactive communications campaigns through national and local media.” This had led to “an inconsistent application of the Withdrawal Agreement in some cases.”252 In response, the Minister explained the Government “have consistently raised the need for clear operational guidance and communications from Member States and their local and regional authorities at the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights and bilaterally. I am pleased to note that this has had an effect.”253

Digital exclusion and vulnerable groups

230.Our witnesses also raised the problems caused by digital exclusion—affecting those individuals who have limited or no access to digital information, including via the internet, and who therefore therefore who are not be able to receive information about their Withdrawal Agreement rights through this medium. Jane Golding explained:

“What we are seeing in Member States is that, where they are putting out good information, it tends to be online rather than through national and local media, for example, so it is easier to reach people who are digital, and less easy to reach people who are more vulnerable or are not so digitally literate.”254

Dr Benson told us: “A lot of information is available online, but that does not account for people who have digital exclusion issues, whether because they do not have the internet or because they cannot use it.”255

231.On the situation in Spain, Sue Wilson said: “Most of the communications that come out from Spain are online. Most of them, thankfully, are in English, but they are not exclusively in English. It is all available to people who have access to the internet, but there are very vulnerable groups that do not have access and are not getting that information.”256

232.In relation to the situation in Bulgaria and Greece, the AIRE Centre told us:

“As far as we are aware there have been no information campaigns by local authorities other than in the digital space. We are aware of joint efforts by the respective Embassies and local authorities aimed at the dissemination of leaflets and brochures in migration offices or other public authorities. However, as far as we are aware, these have not been implemented yet.”257

233.As well as digital exclusion, we heard evidence of other challenges vulnerable individuals face. Dr Benson told us that in France, “Any physical meetings that might have been planned would have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID restrictions. Those would have been the opportunity for some outreach to the most vulnerable within the British community”.258

234.Whether they have constitutive or declaratory systems, some EU Member States have failed to communicate effectively with their UK populations. There have been problems with inconsistent levels of communication to UK citizens, which, when compounded by other issues such as digital exclusion and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, may cause some to fail to access their Withdrawal Agreement rights. We therefore urge the Government to continue to make every effort to raise such issues with the EU Commission and relevant Member States, including at meetings of the Specialised Committee, to ensure they are addressed.

Support for UK citizens

UK Nationals Support Fund

235.The UK Nationals Support Fund (UKNSF), launched by the UK Government in March 2020, “Provides practical support for UK nationals resident in EU or EFTA countries who need additional assistance in applying for residency.”259 Its purpose is to support those “who are having difficulty completing their residency applications. This includes pensioners, disabled people, people living in remote areas or people who have mobility difficulties”.260

236.The organisations that have received funding and the countries in which they operate are:261

237.Some campaigners have criticised the operation of the Fund. In evidence to the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in June 2020, British in Europe raised concerns that only 23% of UK citizens in France will be able to access it, while other EU Member States are not covered at all.262

238.Dr Benson raised similar concerns:

“Concerns about it are to do with … which countries it covers and which it does not. Understandably, there is quite a lot of coverage in France and Spain, but that means some other countries do not necessarily have the coverage that might be necessary, particularly for those vulnerable populations.”263

239.Jane Golding agreed:

“Initially, £3 million was allocated to it, but it covers only 12 countries. Of those, it covers only two constitutive countries, which are obviously those with deadlines where probably the help is most needed. France at least is covered, but that means that 15 other countries are not covered by the support.”264

240.The Minister, Wendy Morton MP, told us:

“We have provided up to £4 million of grant funding, which goes through third-party organisations to support UK nationals in the EU to help in registering or applying for new residence status. The funding currently runs through the financial year 2021/22, but this is something we will keep under review. Through our partners we have reached 320,000 individuals, and 16,000 UK nationals have been directly supported by a caseworker.”265

241.The Minister acknowledged that the Fund operated in only 12 countries, and explained how the UK Government decided where it should be spent:

“In deciding where to allocate our funding … we look to balance our objective of achieving a broad geographic cover with the obvious need to achieve value for money and ensure that the funds support the largest number of at-risk UK nationals, as well as the availability of viable organisations that can help with this programme.”266

242.Asked about other Member States, the Minister said: “Beyond the Fund, we support UK nationals and their family members in every relevant European country by communications campaigns to inform UK nationals of what action they may need to take to secure their rights under the withdrawal agreement.”267 She also acknowledged “there are vulnerable people, including older people, we need to reach. That is why we continue to hold a whole range of outreach events across countries”.268

243.Sue Wilson described a lack of confidence among some UK citizens in support for their rights from the British Government: “We did a recent survey that included over 600 testimonies from our members. The concern at the top of the list was lack of confidence and trust in the British Government.”269 Dr Benson endorsed this view:

“We worked with about 600 people over the course of two years. The human face of this is an overwhelming feeling among the people who took part in the research that they were out of sight and out of mind of the UK Government. A lot of work will have to be done to rebuild confidence among that British population, particularly those living in the EU, that the Government will defend and represent their interests.”270

244.At the same time, both witnesses praised the support UK citizens had received from certain UK embassies and consulates in the EU, with Sue Wilson describing the UK embassy in Madrid as “wonderful”: “The quality and regularity of the information and the openness and transparency have been fantastic. It has a fantastic relationship with the Spanish authorities and keeps us well updated.” Jane Golding added: “A lot of officials are working very hard to defend our rights. We have regular meetings with them and we can raise issues with them and they feed them in.”271

Non-government support

245.Some support has been available outside of UK Government help, but this tends to be confined to UK citizens living in larger communities. Dr Benson highlighted “long-standing local community groups, charities and organisations that for a long time have particularly supported elderly British people”.272 But Sue Wilson explained that the British community living in Spain were not “getting as much help as is needed. There are three groups operating in Spain, and they are doing an excellent job in the areas where they work, but not all Brits in Spain live on the costas, and they do not all live in large conurbations”.273

246.The UK Nationals Support Fund provides important support to third party organisations to help UK citizens, particularly those who are vulnerable, to access their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. We note that it targets those organisations that support the largest populations of UK citizens and we also note that not every Member State may have third party organisations that could receive this funding. However, we are concerned that the fund currently only covers 12 EU countries, and, given the importance of the support it provides, we call on the Government to extend its coverage, as a matter of urgency, to as many EU countries as possible, particularly to those with constitutive systems.

247.We note that this funding is currently provided for the financial year 2021/22. We welcome the fact that the Government is keeping it under review, particularly given its importance to vulnerable UK citizens, who may need support after the various deadlines this year have passed.

248.We note that some UK citizens living in the EU are not confident that the Government will support them and represent their needs, although there was praise for the support given from UK embassies and consulates. We urge the Government to do all that it can to maintain and develop trust with those communities, as it works with the EU to support their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.


203 European Commission, Fourth Joint Report on the Implementation of Residence Rights under Part Two of the Withdrawal Agreement from the Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights (June 2021): https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/fourth_report_draft_final_version_for_publication_en.pdf [accessed 14 July 2021]

205 Ibid.

206 Written evidence from British in Europe (CIT0011)

207 Ibid.

208 Written evidence from British in Europe (CIT0011)

209 Ibid.

210 Written evidence from British multi-country residents affected by Brexit (CIT0003)

211 Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU, Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: citizens’ rights (Second Report, Session 2019–21, HC 849)

212 Ibid.

213 Written evidence from Dr Michaela Benson (CIT0008)

214 Ibid.

217 Written evidence from British in Europe (CIT0011)

218 Written evidence from British in Europe (CIT0011)

219 Ibid.

220 FCDO, Explainer for part two (citizens’ rights) of the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union (16 October 2020): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/927349/explainer-for-part-2-citizens-rights-of-agreement-on-withdrawal-uk-ni-from-eu.pdf [accessed 14 July 2021]

221 Under the Common Travel Area (CTA) arrangement between the UK and Ireland, which predates both countries’ membership of the European Community, UK citizens can move freely and reside in Ireland, are afforded certain associated rights and privileges, and are specifically exempt from ‘non-national’ status under Irish law. As a result, there is no need for UK citizens in Ireland to apply for a residence document under Ireland’s declaratory system, although they may do so if they wish to document their Withdrawal Agreement rights. In a letter to the Chair of the House of Commons Future Relationship with the EU Committee on 30 September 2020, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK reiterated that “Ireland remains committed to upholding all aspects of the CTA.” Written evidence from the Ambassador of Ireland submitted to the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union (FRE0140)

222 Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU, Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: citizens’ rights (Second Report, Session 2019–21, HC 849), para 10

225 Ibid.

227 Letter from Wendy Morton MP, Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, 7 July 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6745/documents/71974/default/

228 Ibid.

230 Letter from Wendy Morton MP, Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, 7 July 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6745/documents/71974/default/

231 Ibid.

233 Ibid.

234 Written evidence from Dr Michaela Benson (CIT0008)

236 Letter from Wendy Morton MP, Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, 7 July 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6745/documents/71974/default/

238 Ibid.

239 Written evidence from British in Europe (CIT0011)

240 Ibid.

241 Ibid.

243 Letter from Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy Of Lancaster to Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President, European Commission, 14 May 2020: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/885252/200514_Letter_from_Rt_Hon_Michael_Gove_MP_to_VP_Sefcovic.pdf [accessed 14 July 2021]

244 Dr Michaela Benson, Brexit and the British in France (24 February 2020): http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/28222/ [accessed 14 July 2021]

246 Ibid.

247 Letter from Wendy Morton MP, Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, 7 July 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6745/documents/71974/default/

251 Letter from Wendy Morton MP, Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, 7 July 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6745/documents/71974/default/

252 Ibid.

253 Ibid.

254 Ibid.

255 Ibid.

256 Ibid.

257 Written evidence from the Aire Centre (CIT0001)

258 Ibid.

259 FCDO, ‘UK Nationals Support Fund (UKSNF): applying for residency in EU of EFTA countries’ (31 March 2021): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/uk-nationals-support-fund-uknsf-applying-for-residency-in-eu-or-efta-countries [accessed 14 July 2021]

260 Ibid.

261 Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU, Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: citizens’ rights (Second Report, Session 2019–21, HC 849), para 24

262 Oral evidence taken before the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, 30 June 2020 (Session 2019–21), QQ 471–514

264 Ibid.

266 Ibid.

267 Ibid.

268 Ibid.

270 Ibid.

271 Ibid.

272 Ibid.

273 Ibid.




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