British MEP loses Brexit visa role over Gibraltar row

A British member of the European Parliament lost his role negotiating a post-Brexit visa law on Monday, amid a dispute over a draft that refers to Gibraltar as a colony.

British MEP loses Brexit visa role over Gibraltar row
Photo: AFP

As chairman of the parliament's civil liberties and justice committee, Claude Moraes had been guiding negotiations on a draft law to issue visa waivers to Britons once their country leaves the European Union.

“Coordinators met earlier today and decided to change the rapporteur on the Brexit visa related file,” Moraes, a member of Britain's Labour Party, confirmed, adding that Bulgarian member Sergei Stanishev will take charge.   

File photo of Moraes talking to journalists in Brussels. Photo: AFP

Diplomats told AFP that EU member states had pushed for Moraes to be bumped from the visa law talks because he was reluctant to accept a draft referring to Gibraltar as “a colony of the British crown.”

A parliamentary official told AFP that EU leaders had decided Moraes had a “conflict of interest” and that speaker Antonio Tajani had informed him of this, without explicitly asking him to step down. 

But some of Moraes' colleagues denounced the intervention, suggesting that the lawmaker had been forced aside.    

Czech liberal and committee colleague Petr Jezek said the parliament had “shot itself in the foot” by removing a member who had been faithfully representing the body's position on the law.  

And a Conservative British MEP, Daniel Dalton said Moraes had “been forced out for rightly opposing Spanish attempts to describe Gibraltar as a colony in the text. Gibraltar is British.”

Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo described his removal as a “disgraceful episode” and “the sort of behaviour that gives succour to the cause of euroscepticism around the EU”

“The removal of Claude Moraes from the post of rapporteur is unhelpful, unfair and unwise on behalf of the European Parliament. Mr Moraes was not just defending the British Citizens of Gibraltar,” Picardo said in a statement from Number 6.

“Moraes was defending the decision of the European Parliament, which has, in effect, now folded in the face of pressure from the European Council, thereby entirely castrating the Parliament's role in the Trilogue process.”

Spain has a long-standing claim on the rocky territory on its southern shore, while the British government insists it be treated as part of the “UK family” in Brexit talks.

In November, the European Commission suggested that after Britain leaves the bloc — as it currently plans to do on April 12 — Britons who want to make short stays on the continent would receive a visa waiver. 

Negotiations on the text of a law have bogged down, however, because of Spain's insistence that it reflect Gibraltar's status as what the United Nations terms a “non self-governing” territory.

MEPs want to adopt the proposed law next Thursday, but the text must first be agreed with the Commission, which is the EU executive, and the European Council, which represents member states, including Spain.

READ MORE: Gibraltar after Brexit: why Spain, not Ireland will decide the UK’s fate

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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.