THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Citizens of the United Kingdom are no longer EU citizens and not eligible for the benefits granted by the political and economic union, the European Union’s highest court ruled on Thursday.
The decision closes the book on multiple challenges brought by British citizens residing in the United Kingdom and abroad who argued that Britain's withdrawal from the European Union violated their rights as EU citizens.
In one case, seven Brits led by Oxford physicist Joshua Silver complained that they had been unfairly deprived of a host of benefits given to citizens of the political and economic union, including freedom of movement and voting rights.
Another case involved one from a group of British citizens living in France, Spain and Italy, and a British man living in Belgium brought the third case. Just as a lower EU court had ruled the suits inadmissible last year, however, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice turned them down as well.
"The loss of the status of citizen of the European Union … is an automatic consequence of the sole sovereign decision taken by the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union,” the court said.
Each of the challengers brought their complaint against the Council of the European Union, which signed off on the Brexit deal, saying it was the approval of the withdrawal agreement that violated their rights.
U.K. citizens voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union in June 2016, becoming the first country to leave the bloc since its formation in 1957. The process of separation, however, dragged on for years. It wasn’t until October 2019 that the British government finally approved a withdrawal agreement.
Brussels approved the deal in 2020, and on Dec. 31, 2020, the U.K. formally exited the bloc.
That has done little meanwhile to stop litigation. Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of legal battles brought by U.K. nationals frustrated with the outcomes of Brexit.
Last year, the court ruled that Brits living in the EU lost their right to vote in local elections. The decision was seen as a test case for the legal rights of the some 1 million Britons who were living in the EU before the British exit.
The EU itself launched a legal action against the U.K. at the court over customs checks on supermarket goods being shipped into Northern Ireland. The pair came to an agreement in February, and Brussels withdrew the complaint.Follow @mollyquell
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.