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U.K. Warned Over EU Citizens' Rights as Brexit Talks Loom

  • EU court aide gives legal opinion on dual EU-U.K. citizens
  • Dual nationals can’t have their EU rights curbed, adviser says

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A Spanish woman who obtained a British passport can’t be prevented from residing with her Algerian husband in the U.K., an adviser to the bloc’s top court said in a case that may spill over into a key debate on citizens’ rights in Brexit talks.

The U.K. can’t strip the rights of EU citizens, including the freedom to live with their non-EU spouse, if they move there from another member state and acquire dual nationality, Advocate General Yves Bot of the EU Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion on Tuesday. The final decision of the Luxembourg-based court will be binding across the bloc.

EU citizens “should be able to continue the family life they have until then led with their spouse in the member state whose nationality they have acquired,” Bot said in a statement on the opinion.

The case is over whether an EU citizen can lose some EU rights when they adopt British citizenship. U.K. law is stricter on immigration issues than the broad protections granted under the EU’s freedom of movement.

A U.K. court sought the EU judges’ guidance in March 2016 on whether Ms. Perla Nerea Garcia Ormazabal and her spouse benefit from the right to free movement and residence guaranteed under the bloc’s citizens’ rights law. The U.K. Home Office had decided that EU citizens who live in the U.K. and acquire dual British citizenship forfeit that right.

Stricter Rules

Under EU rules, “member states must permit EU citizens who are not their nationals to move and reside within their territory with their spouse,” the advocate general said.

Member nations can’t impose conditions for the EU right of residence that are “stricter than those laid down by the free movement” rules, he said.

As the bloc makes the protection of citizens’ rights a priority for the Brexit negotiations scheduled to start next month, the EU court’s final decision could have an effect on EU nationals living in the U.K.

EU citizens considering applying for British citizenship as a way of negating the effects of Brexit, especially if talks collapse without a deal, could find that a ruling upholding the U.K.’s position will strip them of some of the rights associated with their EU passport.

As part of any Brexit settlement, the EU wants the U.K. to ensure the rights of Europeans, including their access to healthcare and welfare, living in Britain up until the date it leaves the bloc and give them the opportunity of claiming permanent residence after five years. The EU wants that to cover future spouses and children of those citizens too.

The case is: C-165/16, Toufik Lounes v. Secretary of State for the Home Department.

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