, The Hague, Netherlands, Jan 17 – A group of British citizens living in the Netherlands launched a potentially far-reaching court challenge Wednesday over their rights as European citizens, currently being negotiated between Brussels and London in Brexit talks.
The five British claimants, including a director of a US firm who has lived in the lowlands country for the past 24 years, are arguing that they have independent rights as EU citizens over and above being citizens of any specific EU member country.
The group which has dragged the Dutch government before the court, insist their legal rights as EU citizens — including freedom of movement — should therefore remain and be protected by The Netherlands even after Brexit, which is scheduled for March 29 next year.
They are now asking an Amsterdam judge to refer the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg which deals with European legislation for clarity and an answer, their lawyer said.
“We’ve told the judge that Britons living in the Netherlands need clarity over their status as European citizens after Brexit,” Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm told AFP.
“British Prime Minister Theresa May said ‘Brexit means Brexit’ only the problem is that nobody knows what that entails,” he said.
Should the European Court indeed rule that Britons have separate implicit rights as EU citizens, it could potentially have massive implications for around a million British subjects living in member state countries, observers say.
“Part of the implication is that it could cause a serious delay or an issue” in the Brexit negotiations, said one of the plaintiffs, Stephen Huyton.
It could also guarantee that certain rights including the very important freedom of movement and residency will be upheld after Brexit, he said.
– ‘Bewilderment, frustration’ –
“For me personally, it’s very much a question of wishing to have clarity,” Huyton told AFP.
“Politicians are negotiating with people’s lives. We have a right to have some clarity, not at the eleventh hour, but now, so that we can get on with our lives,” said Huyton, 58, who moved to the Netherlands in 1993.
“For a lot of us there’s a sense of bewilderment, frustration — especially because many of us were denied a vote during the Brexit referendum,” he said, referring to the rule that bars Britons from voting if they lived outside the United Kingdom for longer than 15 years.
Huyton added there was also great uncertainty for his three children, aged 24, 22 and 19 over what will happen when Britain formally leaves the EU next year.
His two sons, aged 22 and 19 are studying in Britain, are British citizens, but have Dutch residencies and currently remain European citizens.
“Once the UK leaves, is their European residency still valid? That’s one of the questions… not yet answered,” he said.
An initial deal reached in December on Brexit divorce terms is clear on guaranteeing post-Brexit rights of Britons already living in the bloc and of their EU counterparts based in Britain with family members able to claim residence.
But the agreement gave Britons living in EU countries no guarantees for automatic residency rights — and questions about free movement beyond any transition period remains.
The Amsterdam court is scheduled to hand down its written ruling on February 7, the group’s lawyer Thijm said.