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  • Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos

A year from Brexit uncertainty continues

A year after Article 50 was triggered, and a year before the UK is due to leave the EU, many are asking "How will Brexit impact me and my family?". EU nationals living in the UK, or UK citizens who have family and friends in this situation, are particularly concerned, but there is wider uncertainty about the future of the country, and what Brexit will mean for business, trade, travel and freedom of movement for people and their children. To discuss these issues, Haringey Liberal Democrats have organised a public meeting on Thursday 22 March at the Greig City Academy, to try and add clarity, with leading experts in four key areas:

  • Politics: Tom Brake MP: Lib Dems Brexit Spokesman

  • Brexit Negotiations: Tom Cole. Head of Policy at Open Britain and previously of the EU commission involved in negotiations with third parties

  • EU Law: Anneli Howard, barrister and former Référendaire at the European Court of Justice, she is an expert in the interaction between EU and domestic law, and

  • EU Citizen’s Rights: founder of Britain in Europe and New Europeans adviser, Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos

The Liberal Democrats Spokesman, Tom Brake MP, commenting on the economic and political impact of Brexit

The speakers agreed that there remains very worrying uncertainty about the future relationship with Europe, that there is very little time to reach an agreement and that this gravely affects the economy and people in the UK in their personal and professional relationships.

On citizens' rights, Dr Giannoulopoulos noted that there remain very important questions, starting with the logistical implications for the Home Office as a result of the need to administer the 'settled status' applications of millions of EU citizens within a very short period of time. The recent response of the Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes MP, to the Lords’ EU Justice Sub-Committee, that they were expecting the 'vast majority of cases to be granted' was also a reason for significant concern. Dr Giannoulopoulos observed that: The Lords' Committee was 'disappointed' and 'underwhelmed' by this response, since the 'vast majority [fell] short of a legal presumption in favour of granting settled status', which is what had previously been promised.

from left to right: Anneli Howard, Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, Tom Cole

Dr Giannoulopoulos explained that significant uncertainy also existed in relation to:

- Appeals against decisions not to grant settled status: uncertainty, in particular, regarding the circumstances in which an appeal will not be suspensive of removal of the country;

- family reunification post Brexit;

- the fact that those who have already acquired PR are still advised by the Home Office that it will not be valid after the UK leaves the EU;

- more importantly, the fact that if someone has not been at work (e.g. because of disability or in case of parents with young children who take time out of work to look after them or those who are homeless, uregulated workers or a sex worker), they're not self-sufficient and cannot establish PR or settled status;

- or if the 5 years of residence have been interrupted by absences abroad, EU citizens have to start again, losing the ability to travel and reside abroad for more than six months until they have built the 5 year period again (thus becoming 'a prisoner in their adopted country');

- or cases where EU citizens are not able to gather the paperwork (perhaps because old documents cannot be retrieved);

- or perhaps cases where an EU citizen may have committed a minor criminal offence.

It is equally worrying that, even when where citizens have acquired PR or settled status, they won't be able to be away from the country for more than 5 years, as they would automatically lose their settled status.

Dr Giannoulopoulos revisited the argument he has previously developed, that continuing uncertainty may in itself constitute a violation of the right to private and family life (Art 8 ECHR). In further developing the argument, he explained that the existing and continuing uncertainty of EU citizens is aggravated, and must be analysed in the context of, the 'hostile environment' that migrants are increasingly facing in the UK, as illustrated, for example, by recent developments in relation to:

- the immigration exception in the Data Protection Bill;

- the ‘Right to rent’ policy whereby landlords have a duty to check the migrant tenant's right to stay;

- the power of banks to check immigration status of account holders and even freeze or close accounts;

- the recent decision by the Upper Tribunal that immigration officers do not need to comply with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 when they're conducting 'surprise raids'.

He concluded that the case for the unilateral recognition of rights, e.g. through the Green card solution supported by the New Europeans, is stronger than ever.

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