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Brexit divorce must be ‘quick’: EU founding states

UPDATED: The EU's founding states said Saturday they want Britain to begin leaving the union "as soon as possible" as France urged a new British prime minister to take office quickly.

Brexit divorce must be 'quick': EU founding states
"It is not a good day for Britain and the European Union but we must go on," Juncker said. Photo: AFP

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, hosting the six original states of the European Union in Berlin, said they were in agreement that London must not wait to start the complex procedure of extracting itself from the bloc.

“We join together in saying that this process must begin as soon as possible so we don't end up in an extended limbo period but rather can focus on the future of Europe and the work toward it.”

His French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault said it was urgent David Cameron, who on Friday said he would resign by October, clear the way for new leadership to manage the transition out of the union.

“A new prime minister must be designated, that will take a few days but there is a certain urgency,” he told reporters at the crisis talks after Britain's shock referendum to quit the EU.

In announcing his resignation by October, Cameron said it should be his successor who leads the negotiations under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty which sets out a two-year timeframe to leave.

However Steinmeier, Ayrault, the Netherlands' Bert Koenders, Italy's Paolo Gentiloni, Belgium's Didier Reynders and Luxemburg's Jean Asselborn stressed in the German capital that time was of the essence.

“We understand and respect the result (of the referendum) and understand that Britain is now concentrating on Britain,” Steinmeier said, flanked by the other ministers.

“But London has a responsibility toward more than just Britain. We must now be allowed to focus on the future of Europe and that means that after the decision taken in Britain, the process by which we negotiate Britain's exit must begin.”

Koenders called for “good faith” talks with London to begin immediately: “We have to move on… we need to turn the page.”

– 'Enormous challenges' –

Steinmeier had opened the meeting with a heartfelt plea for the EU to remain united.

“I am confident that these countries can also send a message that we won't let anyone take Europe from us,” he said.

Later in a joint statement, the ministers defended the EU's “long and successful” path since its humble beginnings in 1957.

But they acknowledged that the union needed to address the fact that “parts of our societies are not happy with how the EU works at the present time”.

“The European Union stands before enormous challenges in a globalised world, which only a better European Union can grapple with,” they wrote, citing migration and refugees, security, economic growth and jobs as key priorities.

They also acknowledged that among the remaining 27 member states there were differing “levels of ambition” for European integration and had “to find ways to better deal with” them.

BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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