All the rights EU citizens in the UK are set to lose after Brexit

  • Rights for EU citizens to leave the UK for long periods will be restricted post-Brexit.
  • Campaigners tell BI the lack of government progress on the details of their plans has been "shameful." 
  • Two classes of EU citizens will be created in the UK.
  • Right to bring over family members will be restricted.
  • EU citizens will lose protection of the European Court of Justice.


Theresa May last year released what she described as a "generous offer" to EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit. The plans, which form part of negotiations with the EU, were sold as offering Europeans living here rights which are "almost equivalent to British citizens".

But the plans as they stand involve the loss of a number of existing rights for EU citizens. Twelve months since May's "generous offer," EU citizens know little more about the details of the plans.

Nicolas Hatton, co-founder of the EU citizens' campaign group the3million, told BI the lack of progress in the last 12 months was "shameful."

Here are the rights that European citizens living in the UK will lose after Brexit. 

The right to leave

Under current freedom of movement rules, EU citizens are able to move between any member state at will. The UK government has pledged to end this right once Britain leaves, replacing it with the right to earn "settled status" in the UK. Under that system, EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five years can apply for indefinite leave to remain. However, settled status is not the same as citizenship.

While UK citizens are free to work abroad, and even for long periods and still retain their British citizenship, EU citizens with "settled status" are not. Under the current proposed rules, anyone with settled status in the UK risks losing this status if they leave the country for five years or more. The government say exceptions may be made if they "have strong ties here," but the details of that are yet to be spelt out.

Two classes of EU citizens

Brexit protestREUTERS/Russell Cheyne

European citizens arriving before the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, 2020, will be allowed to apply for "settled status" under terms negotiated between the UK and EU this year.

There is still no information on how EU citizens arriving after the cut-off date will be able to migrate to the UK, but it is likely to take the form of a visa scheme. The question of whether EU citizens will receive preferential treatment to non-EU migrants from the rest of the world is still subject to negotiation, and is also reportedly the subject of ongoing Cabinet disputes.

The right to bring over family members

EU citizens living in the UK currently have the right to bring over family members to live here. That right will be either removed or significantly watered down after Brexit.

EU negotiators this year secured concessions from the UK government this year which will partially extend current family reunification rights after the transition, namely the right to bring to the UK existing spouses, parents and children — but it won't apply to unmarried partners.

The3million's Nicolas Hatton said that means younger EU citizens will be subject to unfair discrimination. "Once again, this is discriminatory to younger Europeans who will have to go through the income threshold and other hoops to bring the person they would have fallen in love with outside of the UK," he told BI.

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Europeans living in London have Brexit views but no vote
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Europeans living in London have Brexit views but no vote
Raluca Cioroianu from Romania poses for a photograph at the farm where she is a shop manager in Addlestone, Britain June 19, 2016. "I came here with good intentions, to work, to pay taxes, to improve my knowledge, my culture, and to make a better life," said Cioroianu. "I'm not ashamed to say that I'm from Romania." Picture taken June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls 
Monika Cyrek, a Polish national who works in a grocery store run by her mother that sells mostly Polish products, poses for a photograph in Walton-on-Thames, Britain June 18, 2016. "If we're not wanted here, probably a lot of people will leave and try other places," said Cyrek. Picture taken June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls 
Mihai Marcar, a Romanian waiter at a garden centre restaurant, poses for a photograph in Addlestone, Britain June 19, 2016. "I think there are a lot of people who are here illegally. For me that's the real problem, not the people who are working here, paying taxes, having a normal life," said Marcar. Picture taken June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls 
Simeon Simeonov, a Bulgarian car washer, poses for a photograph in Weybridge, Britain June 16, 2016. "They're thinking like in the last century," Simeonov said of those campaigning for a Brexit. He came to Britain with his wife, who is also Bulgarian, to give their two children a chance for a better life. His main fear about a Brexit is that it might stop them from continuing their education at a local British state school. Picture taken June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls 
Vera Pereira, a Portuguese double bass player with a British orchestra, poses for a photograph in Borough, London, Britain June 8, 2016. "Orchestras may not be able to tour as much. I'm afraid other countries in Europe won't listen to British orchestras as often and the world of music in Britain won't be as well-known as it is now. In 20 years we'll see the result," said Pereira. Picture taken June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls 
Svenja Schumacher, a German national working for a London financial services firm, poses for a portrait beside the River Thames with the London Eye wheel seen behind in London, Britain March 15, 2016. "I don't think it's fair that I don't have a vote. I pay taxes in Britain," said Schumacher. Picture taken March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Jessie Grimes, an Irish clarinettist, poses for a photograph in west London, Britain June 7, 2016. Grimes is concerned that a post-EU Britain may have to re-instate border controls between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. "I can't see that going peacefully," she said, recalling the political violence that blighted Northern Ireland when she was a child. Picture taken June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Catarina Cardoso, a Portuguese academic specialising in climate change who lives in London with her German husband and their three children, poses for a photograph with her family in south London, Britain February 14, 2016. "Until now we were the same as everyone else, maybe a different accent, but it didn't seem to be an issue," said Cardoso. "Now you don't know whether you're welcome really." Picture taken February 14, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Paolo Esposito, an Italian national working in financial services, poses for a portrait on a footbridge over the River Thames in London, Britain March 15, 2016. "I wasn't expecting it to be so easy to settle. From simple things like bureaucracy, which is a lot more straightforward than in Italy, to people's attitudes towards foreigners. Looking back on it, it was less hassle than changing your gym," said Esposito. "I'm definitely settled, with a ring, a mortgage, a British baby." REUTERS/Toby Melville 
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Loss of protection from European courts

EU citizens living in the UK currently have their rights protected by the European Court of Justice. However, Theresa May is committed to leaving the jurisdiction of the court after Brexit. This is likely to be a major point of disagreement in Brexit negotiations.

Claude Moraes MEP, the chair of the European parliament civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, said last year that the proposal to leave the court "threatens the rights of both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries" and would "create greater uncertainty for both UK and EU citizens and take up limited negotiating time."

A no-deal Brexit could make EU citizens illegal immigrants

A no-deal Brexit remains by far the greatest threat to the status of EU citizens in the UK. Should Theresa May fail to secure a deal with her Brussels counterparts by March next year, the majority of EU citizens would likely be residing in the UK without formal legal status. Hatton said they would "technically be illegal immigrants," adding that campaigners have "no idea how the UK is planning for this eventuality."

Meetings between the three million and European politicians this week confirmed that the EU is planning for such an outcome, but details are yet to be published.

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