Lords vote to keep Britons' free movement rights

The Lords want the UK to stay in the wider European Economic Area when it leaves the EU

The UK’s House of Lords has voted 245 to 218 for Britain to stay in the European Economic Area – a ‘soft’ Brexit which would safeguard expats’ automatic right to live and work in the EU.

The Lords voted in favour of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, currently going through parliament, obliging the UK to stay in the EEA after the country leaves the EU in 2019.

The bill will now return to the House of Commons, where it is possible that MPs will remove the clause again, although some pro-EU MPs have said they hope to muster support to retain it.

Staying in the wider EEA structure, which includes certain non-EU countries like Norway, would mean staying in the European single market – a possibility often alluded to during the Brexit referendum campaign and which used to be seen as a likely scenario if the UK was to leave the EU. 

This would mean that most of the main rights enjoyed by Britons in the EU, including some not included in the current draft 'Brexit deal' such as ‘onward’ free movement to other countries, would be protected automatically. As now, Britons would not need to have a residence card to live in France.

However some UK government ministers have said that staying in the EEA would not give the UK control of its borders and laws.

At present the aim of the UK and EU is to mutually protect expat rights as part of the exit treaty, which has yet to be signed off. The current draft gives blow-by-blow detail on which rights would be protected and Britons are expected to have to obtain cards to prove entitlement under the deal.

Some campaigners meanwhile have argued that in fact the UK cannot leave the EEA in any case as it is understood that it never explicitly stated its intention to do so as required under the 1994 EEA Agreement, which requires one year’s notice to be given.

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