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18 march 2017, I am a european citizen

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

The first words on my passport are "european union". That's odd, as a passport is a primary embodiment of nationality. Yet, though few of us realise, since 1992,we have all been dual citizens (see the state we're in), thanks to the maastricht treaty's bold assertion that "citizenship of the union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a member state shall be a citizen of the union". I am proud and appreciative of my european citizenship, which gives me the right to move freely to, and reside and retire in, 27 other countries, to vote and stand as a candidate in local elections there and to access diplomatic services in parts of the world where britain lacks them. Essentially, it means I can live in another eu country and claim the same rights as anyone there. That's why guy verhofstadt's idea about brits keeping their eu citizenship has a serious foundation. Sure, you only acquire eu citizenship by your country becoming a member of the eu, but no-one has yet tested whether your country leaving automatically removes your citizenship. In fact we may, as individuals, have acquired rights, as might non-uk eu citizens living here. Its a universal legal principle that once an individual acquires rights (by whatever means) and exercises them, they cannot be easily removed and this does not automatically happen when the power that granted them seeks to reverse. Unlike any other international treaty, it is a long-established principle that eu law can grant individual rights, going right back to van gend en loos (see court in the act, for the lawyers amongst us), buttressed by the eu charter of fundamental rights. Whether the uk's "great repeal bill" can remove these rights, granted as individuals by the eu during a period when the uk gave them the power to do so, is an open question. Article 50 only mentions the treaties cease to apply to the state; nothing about its eu citizens. Other international law might help, notably the vienna convention, which states (article 70) that termination of an international treaty 'does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination.' As with most things though, determination of this question is likely to be political and subject to negotiation. It is worth reflecting that verhofstadt leads brexit negotiations for the european parliament, a body which has a total brexit veto and has never been shy of using leverage to get what it wants; indeed that is its modus operandi for building its power over decades. What better cause than its citizens' rights for a body of the people's representatives to pick as its battering ram ? Watch this space...