Sanwar Ali: European Commission legal action against UK

By Sanwar Ali:

The European Commission alleges that the UK has failed to comply with EU law on freedom of movement and freedom of establishment for EU citizens.  Infringement proceedings were launched on Thursday.  EU citizens and their dependents do not currently have to come under the expensive, complicated and bureaucratic UK visa system.

During the Brexit transitional period until 31 December 2020 the UK continues to come under EU free movement and freedom of establishment rules.  The EU and the UK are trying to reach an agreement on trade and other issues by the end of the year.  This is not going very well. Currently the Boris Johnson Government insists that the transitional period will not be extended beyond the end of 2020.   It is very uncertain whether it will be possible to reach an agreement with the EU by the end of the year on exactly what will happen after the transitional period ends.  The UK and the EU are currently concentrating on dealing with the coronavirus COVID-19 situation, leaving less time to agree on a way forward. There may actually be a “no deal Brexit” after all.

As well as free movement, under Article 56 TFEU right of establishment EU citizens should be able to provide services in other Member States on a temporary basis while remaining in their country of origin. This should mean elimination of discrimination on the grounds of nationality.  It is also suggested that there should be harmonisation of national access rules or their mutual recognition.

The European Commission had the following to say:

“UK national legislation limits the scope of beneficiaries of EU free movement law in the United Kingdom as well as the possibilities for EU citizens and their family members to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights.

“The Commission considers that the United Kingdom has thereby breached the Free Movement Directive 2004/38/EC as well as EU rules on freedom of movement of EU citizens (Article 21 TFEU), freedom of movement of workers (Article 45 TFEU) and freedom of establishment (Article 49 TFEU).

“EU law on free movement of persons continues to apply to and in the United Kingdom as if it were still an EU Member State during the transition period.

“Furthermore, the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK after the end of the transition period, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, are built on the rights that they currently enjoy in the United Kingdom under EU rules.”

UK has four months to address shortcomings

The EU also had the following comments to make about the UK non-compliance with EU regulations:

"limits the scope of beneficiaries of EU free movement law in the United Kingdom as well as the possibilities for EU citizens and their family members to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights,"

A spokesperson for Downing Street said: "We will look at what the EU has to say and we will respond in due course."

The European Commission is concerned that the behaviour of the Government endangers EU citizens’ rights.  This was to be safeguarded as agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU signed in January.

"The United Kingdom now has four months to take the necessary measures to address the shortcomings identified by the Commission,".

Liberal Democrats criticise UK Government

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

"It is beyond frustrating that it has got to the point where the UK government is facing legal action to protect the rights of people who contribute so much to this country. The fact that the commission feels it has to take this action to protect rights after the transition period reflects terribly on the UK government and their actions….”

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