Judge to ask EU court about post-Brexit citizenship issues

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Manchester, England Tuesday Feb. 6, 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of a British law giving some female voters the right to go to the polls. The 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which extended voting rights to all British men aged 21 and up, and to millions of women over 30. British women did not get the same voting rights as men until 1928. (Paul Ellis/PA via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A judge in Amsterdam said Wednesday he will ask a European Union court to answer key questions about the rights of British citizens in the bloc after Brexit, in a decision that could provide important clarity for some 1 million Britons living on the continent.

Officials negotiating Britain's exit from the European Union have made progress on the protection of rights of EU citizens living in Britain and U.K. citizens living on the continent, but no full agreement has yet been reached on the issue. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the uncertainty so far left their fate up in the air.

Judge Floris Bakels said in a written ruling that "there has to be more clarity about the consequences of Brexit for EU citizenship," according to a statement by the Amsterdam court.

A group of British citizens who live in the Netherlands took their case to the European Court of Justice last month in a bid to protect their EU citizenship rights after Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, any person who is a citizen of an EU nation automatically is also an EU citizen. EU citizenship grants rights including the ability to move, work and live freely within the bloc.

Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, the Dutch lawyer who represented the Britons in the Amsterdam court, welcomed the ruling.

"Theresa May famously said, 'Brexit means Brexit,' but the Brits currently living on the continent have no idea what that means for them," Alberdingk Thijm said. "Are you an EU citizen for life or can your citizenship be taken away from you? That is the fundamental question that will be put forward to the European Court."

One of the Britons who filed the case, Stephen Huyton, who has lived in the Netherlands for 24 years, said he was delighted with the decision.

"However, this is but the first step to clarity about what Brexit means for our EU citizenship," he said in a statement. "This case has always been about seeking clarification."

It wasn't immediately clear when the European Court of Justice would deliver answers to the questions.

In a written reaction, the British government said: "We have secured a deal that will safeguard the rights of U.K. nationals living in the European Union, so that they can continue living their lives broadly as they do now."

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