(ABC TODAY) LONDON: A high profile British lawyer is crowdfunding a case which he believes could give UK citizens the right to retain their EU citizenship after Brexit.
Jo Maugham QC has so far raised £60,000 bolstered by his large Twitter following to help fund the case, which is currently stuck in an obscure Dutch court.
Maugham believes the case, which has been brought by 5 British nationals who live in Netherlands, could be the most important of its kind for over 50 years.
“There’s a genuine question about whether European law establishes EU citizenship as a real meaningful thing. That is, a thing that would survive the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” Maugham told Business Insider.
The case hinges on an Article from the bloc’s de facto constitution which states that “citizenship of the [European] Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.”
In other words, the case contends that EU citizenship does not replace national citizenship, because the two exist in parallel, and leaving the EU does not therefore mean British citizens should lose their European citizenship.
In January, prominent Dutch judge Floris Bakels ruled that there was “reason to doubt … that the loss of the status of citizen[ship] of an EU Member State leads to loss of EU citizenship as well.” She referred the case to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court.
That could have seismic implications: a favourable ruling could technically mean that Britons retained their right to live, work, and travel across Europe even if it leaves the European single market, and was not compelled to offer reciprocal rights to Europeans.
If the case sounds speculative, it is. The EU has no current provisions of citizenship for non-member countries and member states will oppose any deal which gives UK citizens EU rights that are not returned. EU laws also dictate that a person must “[hold] the nationality of a Member State” to become EU citizens.
However, senior EU figures have previously raised the possibility of UK citizens being allowed to retain EU citizenship after Brexit. The EU Parliament’s Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt has suggested that British citizens could opt in to an “associate citizenship” after Brexit. UK Brexit Secretary David Davis also said last year that he would look “seriously” at the idea.
Maugham says he is “realistic” about the prospects of the case, whose referral to the ECJ is currently being challenged by the Dutch government. But he says the European Union is “based on the rule of the law, and if the law gives me the right to retain my EU citizenship, or a Dutch resident the right to retain her citizenship, then that is what the law is.”
“The fact that it’s politically uncomfortable for other member states is besides the point,” Maugam said.
He added: “Those who say that all citizens of a member states automatically lose their EU citizenship when it ceases to be a member state … are essentially contending that EU citizenship is just a set of rights because you are a citizen of a member state, and that leaves EU citizenship shorn of any substance.”
This week, Maugham crowdfunded £60,000 to resist the appeal against Judge Bakels’ decision to refer the question to Luxembourg, an unprecedented move which appears to reflect the country’s resistance to the case.
The appeal will be heard on April 19, and if it is successfully rebuffed Maugham expects it to be heard by the ECJ within four months.
“There is no certainty about it,” he said. “What I am sure of is that the Court of Justice would engage very carefully with a case that asserts that Europe is a project based upon the rights of its citizens,” he said.