In the EU referendum of 23 June 2016, the majority of the British electorate voted in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (EU), 43 years after it joined the then EEC.
Consequently, on 29 March 2017, the British government triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU), whereupon negotiations on the terms of Brexit and a Withdrawal Agreement commenced. This marked the first stage in a complex process that will lead to the formal exit of the United Kingdom from the EU at the end of a two-year negotiating period, i.e. on 29 March 2019. This date has now been extended to 12 April 2019 (in the event of a no-deal Brexit) or to 22 May 2019 (provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved).
Phase 1 of the negotiationswas successfully concluded on 15 December 2017 and the European Council determined that sufficient progress had been made for the negotiations to proceed to the second phase.
Phase 2 of the negotiations got underway at the beginning of 2018, under the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. The 19th of March marked an important first result: at the end of an intense negotiating session, the parties reached an agreement on citizens' rights, the financial settlement, the transition periodand other separation provisions, succeeding in covering almost 80% of the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Thanks to the efforts made between April and November 2018 (Phase 3 of the negotiations), on 25 November 2018, the EU27 leaders met for a special meeting of the European Council, at which they approved the Withdrawal Agreementand the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, following the British Government's political endorsementof the agreement on 14 November.
The agreement envisaged a transition perioduntil the end of 2020, during which the status quo would be preserved, with some minor corrections: the United Kingdom would be required to comply with EU law and all ensuing obligations, but - in its new capacity as a Third State - it will not have the right to take part in the EU's decision-making process.
Within the framework of the Brexit negotiations, a number of issues are a priority for our country. One of these is undoubtedly the status of EU citizens - including that of Italian citizens - residing in the UK and the status of British citizens living in Italy. In this regard and for the Italian government, it is imperative that the Withdrawal Agreement guarantee the acquired rights of Italian citizens living, studying and working in the United Kingdom even after withdrawal. More generally, Italy is committed, together with its European partners, to ensuring the most orderly possible transition to a post-Brexit Europe, in the interests of its citizens and businesses.
Despite the positive developments arising from the November agreement, on 15 January 2019, the British Parliament rejectedthe Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU and the United Kingdom by 432 votes to 202.
A second 'meaningful vote' by British MPs on the Withdrawal Agreement was held on 12 March, but once again, it was voted down (with 391 votes against and 242 in favour), despite the additional legal assurancesincluded in the EU-UK agreement reached on 11 March on the Northern Irish 'backstop' .
During the parliamentary debate of 13 and 14 March, the House of Commons voted againsta 'no-deal' scenario and backed a motion to extend the two-year deadline provided for in Article 50 TEU. In a letter dated 20 March to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, formally requested an extension of the deadline laid down in Article 50, from 29 March to 30 June 2019.
The European Council (Art. 50) meeting of 21 March examined and approved the UK Government's request for an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the Agreement is not approved, then the European Council has agreed to an extension until 12 April 2019. It expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council (European Council (Art. 50) conclusions, 21 March 2019 - Conclusions).
A third "meaningful vote" by British MPs on the Withdrawal Agreement was held on March 29, but once again it was voted down (with 344 votes against and 286 in favor).
Following the vote, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, announced an extraordinary meeting of the European Council scheduled for April 10, with a view to discussing the next steps to be taken.
On April 5, 2019, British Prime Minister May wrote to President Tusk requesting a further extension of the deadline provided for in Article 50 to June 30, 2019, with the possibility of bringing forward this deadline, where possible, to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement before it.
Meanwhile, preparations for withdrawal and a no-deal scenario are continuing at both EU and national level. In this regard, a hearing was held on 14 March before the EU Foreign Affairs and Policy Committees of the Chamber of Deputies where Minister Moavero Milanesi reported on the fact-finding investigation into the Brexit negotiations and Brexit's impact on Italy. On April 5, 2019, the seventh meeting of the Brexit "Task Force" was held at Palazzo Chigi - chaired by the Diplomatic Counselor to the President of the Council of Ministers, Amb. Pietro Benassi - in which the latest developments of the Brexit dossier were discussed, in view of the extraordinary European Council scheduled for April 10, as well as the measures to be taken in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Given the uncertainty still surrounding the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, all EU citizens and businesses are urged to complete their no-deal preparedness and to be prepared for all possible outcomes.
According to the Commission's Communications on "Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 30 March 2019" (COM (2018) 556/2, COM(2018)880 and COM (2018) 890), stakeholders and national and EU administrations must prepare for two likely outcomes:
a) If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before 30 March 2019 and if it enters into force on that date, EU law will cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom on 1 January 2021, i.e. after a transition period of 21 months, the terms of which are set out in the Withdrawal Agreement;
b) If the two parties do not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement before 30 March 2019, there will be no transition period and EU law will cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom as of 30 March 2019 (i.e. the 'no-deal' or 'cliff-edge' scenario).
Even if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified and a future relationship agreement is successfully concluded and enforced, cooperation between the EU and the United Kingdom will be very different compared to that between Member States: the European Council has consistently reiterated that a Third Country cannot enjoy the same rights and benefits as a Member State. It is therefore of the utmost importance that all countries prepare for the United Kingdom being a Third Country, even in the least disruptive scenario.
Additional information on citizens' rights
I. Citizens' rights in the event of withdrawal pursuant to Art. 50 TEU
It was clear from the outset of the negotiations back in June 2017 that measures needed to be finalised rapidly to protect the rights of about 4 million citizens (of whom about 3 million are EU citizens in the UK, including an estimated 700,000 Italians). The EU and UK negotiators agreed to guarantee most of the rights recognised by the EU acquis to all citizens residing in the UK or in the EU before the end of the transition period (31 December 2020).
If the Withdrawal Agreement enters into force by 29 March 2019, those Italian citizens residing in the United Kingdom who have not met the UK's five-year residency requirement by the end of the withdrawal period, can obtain or are entitled to "Settled Status" or "pre-Settled Status" (said rights are conferred under Art. 18.1 of the Withdrawal Agreement) by means of a simplified administrative procedure managed by the British Home Office. Italy and the United Kingdom have had, and continue to engage in, a fruitful dialogue on the need to guarantee these rights, with particular regard for more vulnerable groups.
As for British citizens residing in Italy, their rights shall be recognised in accordance with the procedures set out in Art. 18.4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, including a statement recognising the rights of British nationals residing in Italy at the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). A simple and quick way of protecting the tens of thousands of Britons who have chosen to live in Italy, in line with the open and constructive dialogue launched with the British authorities to fully protect the rights of Italian citizens living in the United Kingdom. British citizens living and working in Italy are required to register at their local Municipal Registry Office (Ufficio anagrafe).
II. Citizens' rights in the event of a No-Deal Brexit
In line with the dialogue between EU member states and the UK on the need to guarantee citizens' rights, both sides are committed to protecting the rights of citizens, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
On its part, the UK published a policy paper on 6 December regarding citizens' rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to which, the rights of EU citizens who have lived in the UK for at least five years as at 29 March 2019 will be protected (as opposed to the deadline of 31 December 2020, given that the transition period proposed in the Withdrawal Agreement will no longer apply). Those who are in a position to benefit from the new scheme (Settled or pre-Settled Status) can register by 31 December 2020. Those EU citizens with Settled (or pre-Settled) Status will, in principle, retain the same rights and benefits enjoyed until now, the protection of which shall be referred to British courts (EU courts shall no longer have jurisdiction, as has instead been laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement). Those arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 will no longer enjoy the same treatment, according to British laws on immigration and the principle of reciprocity applied to Britons residing in the countries of origin of the persons concerned.
On its part, Italy has adopted legislative measures (Decree 22 of 25 March 2019), specifically the provisions under Articles 14-17 on citizens' rights), in line with the Communications of the European Commission of 13 November 2018 and 19 December 2018, to maintain the existing legal framework recognising the requirements of British nationals residing in Italy at the date of withdrawal to apply for and obtain long-term resident status, in compliance with Directive 2003/109/EC, within the transition period ending on 31 December 2020. In this way, they will continue to enjoy such rights as access to healthcare, employment, education, social benefits and family reunification. British citizens living and working in Italy are required to register at their local Registry Office (Ufficio anagrafe) before the UK leaves the EU.
EU citizens, businesses and the people concerned wanting to be informed on the consequences of Brexit, may consult:
- Statement of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers regarding the seventh meeting of the Brexit Task Force (April 5, 2019)
- DECREE LAW N. 22 of 25 March 2019 - Urgent measures to assure security, financial stability and market integrity and to protect the health and freedom of residence of the citizens of Italy and of the United Kingdom, in case of the latter's withdrawal from the European Union (25 March 2019)
- European Council Decision adopted in conjunction with the United Kingdom, extending the deadline provided for under Article 50, Para. 3 of TEU (22 March 2019)
- Press Statement by the Italian Prime Minister on the consequences and preparation for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (15 February 2019)
- “Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019 without an agreement”, prepared by the Prime Minister's Office, provides a general overview, sector by sector, on the consequences and arrangements if the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without an agreement
Press Release from the Office of the Prime Minister's Office on the customs, port and airport emergency plans, and the assistance and information for companies in case of a “No Deal Brexit” (8 february 2019)
Press release from the Ministry of Economy and Finance on the transitory arrangements to assure continuity in the functioning of markets and intermediaries in case of a “No Deal Brexit” (24 january 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office following the vote of 15 January 2019 on the Withdrawal Agreement (15 january 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the Italian Government’s activities to prepare for Brexit making reference both to the exit regulated by the Withdrawal Agreement and the No-Deal Brexit and, in particular, to the protection of citizens’ rights; (21 december 2018)
- online assistance service on Brexit, dedicated to Italian citizens, provided by the Italian Embassy in London and the Consulates General in London and Edinburgh, which will post periodic updates on ongoing negotiations (“News”), on the questions that citizens most frequently ask the Italian Embassy (“FAQ”), on the documents of reference of Brexit (“Documents”) and on preparing businesses (“Preparing for Brexit”);
- notices on “Brexit preparedness” from the European Commission on the legal and practical consequences of Brexit, also in a No-Deal Brexit scenario. The Commission’s notices, which are regularly updated, illustrate the legal consequences of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019 on various sectors of activities and on the principal issues of interest should no other withdrawal rules be negotiated. The picture is further completed in the recently published Commission Communication on Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU of last 19 July.
- UK Home Office website, which makes available a document (“EU Settlement Scheme”) that sums up the requirements and the procedures through which EU citizens and their families residing in the United Kingdom can apply for and obtain resident status so as to legally reside in post-Brexit UK.
- the European Union's Europe Direct Contact Centre, at the toll-free number 00 800 67891011, on working days and public holidays, from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. (CET)