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EU and UK citizens’ rights after Brexit: An overview

Written by Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig,

The flags of the European Union and the United Kingdom isolated on a white background with a sign reading Citizens Rights

© Ben Gingell / Adobe Stock

On 1 February 2020, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) became effective. With the UK’s exit from the EU, UK nationals lose the rights deriving from EU citizenship, unless they also have the nationality of an EU Member State. This means, first and foremost, that they lose freedom of movement rights across the EU, but also political rights such as the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in European and municipal elections, the right to petition the European Parliament and to lodge complaints before the European Ombudsman, among others. In addition, EU citizens resident in the UK find themselves in a third country which will no longer be bound by common EU rules regarding their treatment.

Nevertheless, the UK left the EU on the basis of a negotiated withdrawal agreement. Part Four of the withdrawal agreement institutes a transition period until 31 December 2020, during which time the UK is treated as a Member State and EU law continues to apply in and to the UK – with certain exceptions provided for in the agreement. Therefore, until 31 December 2020, UK nationals in the EU will continue to benefit from most EU citizenship rights, most importantly freedom of movement rights. Notable exceptions are the right to participate in a European Citizens’ Initiative and the right to vote and stand as candidate in European Parliament elections and in municipal elections in the Member State of residence (although national measures may allow for the continuation of the exercise of franchise rights). EU citizens also benefit from the freedom to move to the UK during the transition period, based on the applicable EU law.

Beyond the transition period, Part Two of the withdrawal agreement preserves most of the rights of EU and UK citizens who have made use of their freedom of movement rights in accordance with EU law before the end of the transition period. In particular, the provisions of the withdrawal agreement regarding citizens’ rights cover entry/exit and residence rights, workers’ rights and social security coordination rules. This will allow EU and UK citizens who previously exercised their rights to live, work and study in the UK and the EU respectively, under EU law, to maintain these rights for their entire lifetime, as long as they continue to meet the conditions set in the agreement. The rights of reunification with certain (third-country) family members are also protected.

On the other hand, EU citizens arriving in the UK, and UK citizens arriving in the EU, after the end of the transition period will not benefit from the protection of the withdrawal agreement. Both UK and EU nationals will have to comply with the national immigration rules applying to third-country nationals, unless the EU and UK agree on specific mobility arrangements, either as part of the future relationship agreement currently being negotiated or in a subsequent agreement.

This paper analyses the consequences of the UK withdrawal from the EU for citizens’ rights, both during and after the transition period. It provides an overview of the rights guaranteed by the withdrawal agreement and takes stock of the measures taken or envisaged by the UK and the EU Member States to implement the citizens’ rights provisions of the agreement.


Read this complete ‘in-depth analysis’ on ‘EU and UK citizens’ rights after Brexit: An overview‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


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