Citizens in waiting ... again. What's the score after the votes this week?

We've just lived through one of the most momentous and extraordinary weeks imaginable in the UK Parliament, with plotlines, twists and turns right out of a Hilary Mantel novel. As we catch our breath, lick our wounds and reflect on what's happened, it's time to have a look at where it may all leave us in terms of our citizens' rights.

I have to say here that like you we don't have a crystal ball, and with opinions, loyalties and political relationships changing all the time a number of things could happen. But the legislative process means that we do have some idea of what those things are - and what they're not.

We know that MPs have voted on and passed two motions: one that seeks to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal, and another mandating the government to seek an extension to the Article 50 date until 30 June 2019 if the deal has been agreed by Parliament by 20 March.

However, just because these motions have been passed doesn't necessarily mean that they'll come into being: a no deal exit would still happen by default if nothing else came in to stop it; and an extension is wholly in the gift of the European Council - the UK can do no more than ask for it.

If the deal isn't agreed by 20 March, it would be up to Theresa May to request a longer extension, long enough for a major renegotiation - although she isn't directly mandated by the motion to do that. An extension - whether short or long - has to be agreed unanimously by the European Council: the heads of state of the EU27 countries. This will be done - or not - at the next summit, on 21 and 22 March ... so in just a week's time we'll have some idea of our fate.

Or will we? Let's take a look at the different scenarios.

1. Theresa May presents her deal to Parliament again before 20 March, and it passes.

Theresa May would ask the European Council for an extension of the Article 50 date to 30 June 2019, long enough to put in place the relevant legislation, and would almost certainly get this.

This means that our rights would be guaranteed under the Withdrawal Agreement, and that there would be a transition/implementation period running until 31 December 2020. During this period nothing would change except that we'd lose the right to vote in France. Those wanting to move to France could do so under current rules. We would all have to apply for a new residence card under the Withdrawal Agreement before July 2021. You can read more about life under the Withdrawal Agreement here

The French no deal ordonnance would never come into effect and the Ministry of the Interior would immediately move into planning how to deal with issuing cards under the Withdrawal Agreement.

If the European Council refuses to grant an extension then we hit this wall: there wouldn't be enough time to pass the necessary legislation to implement the Withdrawal Agreement so if the UK doesn't revoke Article 50, it could still end up leaving the EU without a deal on 29 March. But it's unlikely that this would happen as it would make the EU responsible for the UK leaving without a deal - something that it wouldn't want.

2. Theresa May presents her deal to Parliament again before 20 March and it doesn't pass.

Now things get complicated as it would be the interaction of various events that would determine our futures.

(a) She asks the European Council at the summit on 21/22 March for an extension. 
Remember, this has to be unanimous - all heads of state must agree - and the Council has said that the UK would need to present a roadmap going forward or some significant change in the political scene.

The Council could:

(i) Agree a longer extension of at least 6 months and possibly up to 2 years. 
During this period there could be a renegotiation, a second referendum, an election, a change of leader, a vote of no confidence or any combination of those ... or even a decision to remain in the EU.

During the extension period we would remain EU citizens and our rights would remain exactly as they are now, including free movement. Anyone moving to France would do so as an EU citizen. It's likely that préfectures would reopen carte de séjour applications, and we would be asking for this to happen. 

The French no deal ordonnance would be put on hold - because it could still be needed (see below).

If there were a complete renegotiation there would be a chance that the current Withdrawal Agreement chapter on citizens' rights could be reopened and therefore that we could once again campaign for the missing elements to be included.

Unless a decision were taken to revoke Article 50 altogether and remain in the EU, at the end of, or at some point during, the extension period the UK would have to go through once again the process of putting a new agreement to the vote.

If it were ratified, it (and the citizens' rights within it) would come into effect on a new effective date, at which point we would lose our EU citizenship and would have to reapply for residence cards under the terms of the new agreement, just as in paragraph 1. 

If it were not ratified then the UK could still end up leaving without a deal at the end of the extension period. It's hard to imagine that this would happen, but not impossible. In this case and if the EU  and UK had failed to ringfence our citizens' rights, we would default to being third country nationals and our rights would be governed either by the current no deal ordonnance or by one passed to replace it.

(ii) Refuse a longer extension but agree a 3 month extension.
This would really only allow the government to do two things: firstly to present the failed agreement yet again in the hope that desperation would ensure that it passed; and/or to prepare to exit with no deal on 30 June 2019.

If it passed, the Withdrawal Agreement would come into effect on 30 June and would cover our rights as described in paragraph 1.

If it failed, the UK could either decide to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, or it would leave without a deal on 30 June. In the second case and if the EU and UK had failed to ringfence our citizens' rights, our rights would be governed by the French no deal ordonnance from this date. 

(iii) Refuse any extension at all.
With no extension the UK could either decide to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, or it would leave without a deal on 29 March 2019, just days after the European council.

In the latter case, the French no deal ordonnance would come into effect from 30 March 2019, and we would hope that the decree giving some precision on some aspects of it would also be published. There would be a transition period of 12 months during which each of us would have to reapply for a new, third country national, status. You can read about this in various earlier posts. 

With such short timing we could expect a chaotic period immediately after 29 March for travel, finance and many other aspects of day to day life. If you haven't done so already you might want to read our 'no deal checklist' here.

The key events to watch are the third meaningful vote, which is we think due to happen on 19 March; and then in the same week 21 and 22 March, when EU27 leaders will decide on whether or not to grant an extension. But much could happen before then.

(b) She doesn't ask the European council for an extension.
The motion passed this week only mandates her to request an extension if the deal passes in Parliament before 20 March. It's likely that an amendment will be tabled when she presents the deal for the third time (if she does) mandating her to seek a longer extension if the deal is voted down again, but even if this happens it's by no means a given - over 180 Conservative MPs voted against the motion mandating even a short extension and Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, is known to be against a long extension.

If no request for an extension is made to the European council at the summit on 21/22 March the UK will either leave without a deal, or have to revoke Article 50, or the Council would have to agree an extraordinary summit between 23 and 28 March to agree an extension if it were requested later.

If the UK leaves without a deal, the French ordonnance covering our rights as third country nationals comes into effect automatically on 30 March.

Next week is going to be a bumpy one.


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