British nationals settled in Italy have landed a new year Brexit break after the Italian government announced they would remain legal residents of the country in the event of no deal.
High level officials from the Ministero degli Affair Esteri told volunteers in the British in Italy campaign group that they “would continue to be legally resident with their existing rights to work” if Theresa May does not get her withdrawal agreement ratified and the UK crashes out of the EU on 29 March.
“Our worst fears are over. This makes Italy the first EU27 country to publicly declare their plans for citizens’ rights post-Brexit, and to provide the reassurance we have been awaiting so long,” said the group in a statement.
The Italian breakthrough comes days after immigration officials in Berlin vowed to open an urgent registration process to secure legal status will be in place for them in the event of the UK leaving the EU with no deal.
The Berlin authorities delivered their promise quickly opening the registration process on Thursday 3 January, and telling worried Britons that if there was no deal they would be briefly exempt from German law requiring residency documentation.
“From 30.03.2019 onwards British citizens in Germany will, for an initial period of three months until 30.06.2019, be exempted from the requirement to possess a German residency title,” they said on their website.
Before Christmas the French also sought to reassure British nationals in France of their status post-Brexit. Nathalie Loiseau, the Europe minister, said that France would guarantee the residence, employment and welfare rights of the 160,000 resident British citizens living there provided that Britain offered the same guarantees to French expatriates.
There are an estimated 60,000 British nationals living and working in Italy who were concerned at the prospect of becoming “irregular” with no rights to reside, work, or access national healthcare or social security if there was no deal.
While British in Italy says they feel reassured that they will not now be illegal, they are concerned that they lose some of their rights including the freedom to move to another EU country or work or offer services in another EU country.
This is because negotiations on
these rights were set aside, to be discussed at the next Brexit phase of talks on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
“I feel a mixture of extreme relief that whatever happens with Brexit we will be able to continue to live legally in our adopted home, but this is coupled with a great anger that I and so many others have been left in this situation for so long when it could have been settled on 27 June 2016,” said Denise Abel, member of British in Italy.
But she added: “I thank the Italian government from the bottom of my heart for doing what was promised to us, making it possible for us to continue to live our lives as before. The situation is not perfect for those of us who rely on freedom of movement for our work but at least we Brits in Italy can sleep better in our beds knowing we will not become illegal in our own homes.”
A fellow member of the campaign group, Carole-Anne Richards, said she had “mixed feelings” about the news but her immediate feeling was “one of relief” that she won’t be illegal.
“At the end of the day the UK government has not ensured my rights will be the same as promised – they will be significantly diminished,” she said.
The absence of freedom of movement affects Britons who work in multiple EU countries and has lead to accusations that the EU and May are leaving them “landlocked”.
According to one of the representative of British in Italy, the Italian state representatives assured them “they are working on legislation that will be in place by 29 March, so in the event of no deal we will all be legally resident and entitled work and continue with our existing rights now, as they are now”.
They said they are hoping to replicate the rights Britons have had under Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement if that is ratified.
This will mean British nationals can continue to live and work in the country, but they will still be without some of their rights including the freedom of movement to live or work in another EU country, or the ability to offer services in another country.
British in Europe, the coalition of campaign groups for Britons facing the loss of rights because of Brexit, have accused the UK of abandoning an estimated 1 million Britons who would be left high and dry if the UK crashes out of the block.
Theresa May and the EU have called on EU member states to be “generous” and to ensure Britons’ rights are protected, but there is underlying anger that in 2017 the EU offered to roll over 100% of rights to all those individuals in the UK and the continent affected by Brexit.
The UK did not respond to this offer and instead came up with its own version of immigration rules for EU citizens in the UK forcing the EU to negotiate on these terms.