British MPs reject Brexit agreement - what now for the EU citizens of Roma origin there?
Yesterday, as anticipated, British MPs voted against the agreement on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union that had been negotiated with the other 27 EU Member States by UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Reuters reports that the agreement was supported by just 202 legislators with 432 against it.
The opposition Labour Party then announced they had filed a motion for a vote of no confidence in the Government. MPs will debate that motion and vote on it this evening.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March, or 72 days from now. It is not absolutely certain how this evening's vote will turn out.
MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, who are supporting May's minority Government, said previously that while they would vote against the Brexit agreement, they will still support the Government during the confidence vote, a message they reiterated after yesterday's vote. If the cabinet were to fall and a new one could not be formed within two weeks, early elections would be held.
The Conservative Prime Minister should now present, within three business days, her so-called "plan B" to the House of Commons, according to a recently-approved amendment to the law, which she must come forward by Monday, 21 January, with a proposal for what to do next about the counry's departure from the EU. The alternatives are either postponing Brexit, holding early elections, holding a second referendum about leaving the EU, or going through a Brexit that will be unmanaged because there will be no agreement on which to base it.
The main point of dispute in the negotiations with the EU has been the so-called "Irish backstop", a backup solution to prevent the creation of a strict border control regime between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. That idea bothers many British lawmakers who believe activation of the backstop would mean Britain would still be attached to EU structures for the foreseeable future.
The decisions made by the British MPs will influence the lives of EU citizens living in Great Britain, including those of Romani origin. In 2013 the University of Salford attempted to count the number of Romani people living in Great Britain.
The number they arrived at then was 200 000. Essentially, however, the actual number is believed to be different.
The number of Romani people in Britain today is undoubtedly far higher than that. As EU citizens, most of them from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, Romani people do not have to register their ethnicity after arriving in the UK, which makes it difficult to estimate how many of them from EU countries are living there now.
The number of citizens of the Czech Republic in the UK, according to the Czech Embassy's consular services in London, is estimated at roughly 100 000. It is, however, said to be difficult to estimate the number of Czech citizens living in Great Britain as well.
The Czech Foreign Ministry's website reports that the number of Czech citizens residing there is basically unknown. The British Statistical Office reports that in 2017 there were 49 000 citizens of the Czech Republic living in Britain.
If May's agreement on Brexit had been adopted yesterday, then a transition period until the end of 2020 would have been instituted during which no changes would have applied to citizens from other EU countries living in the UK. At the end of that transition period, EU citizens would have had to request residency in the UK as third-country nationals.
It is unclear what yesterday's vote means for Czech citizens or what a so-called "hard Brexit" would mean. The British authorities have repeatedly said that citizens of EU countries already living in the UK should be treated the same in the future as they have to date.
May's agreement with the EU would also have regulated the rights of British citizens living in EU countries during the transition period. In the Czech Republic, according to the Czech Statistical Office, there were roughly 4 700 UK citizens living long-term in 2017.
Last week the Czech Government adopted for submission to the Czech Parliament a bill that would arrange for British citizens in the Czech Republic to be treated the same as EU citizens until the end of 2020 in the event of a "hard Brexit". Now that May's Brexit agreement has failed, the Czech Government will want to negotiate the bill in the Czech Parliament in an accelerated proceeding.
The law is meant to serve as a gesture of reciprocity so that Britain will also continue to approach Czech citizens as it has to date and will not treat them as third-country citizens. Britain to date has been a favorite destination of students from abroad.
According to the Czech Education Ministry, roughly 600 students travel there annually as part of the EU's Erasmus+ mechanism for internships and study. Another 500 people from the Czech Republic annually graduate from British universities and the United Kingdom is, in that respect, the second most favorite destination for Czechs looking to study abroad.
Of all Czech students who decide to study abroad, 15 % graduate from British universities. According to the Czech Education Ministry, it is not yet possible to estimate what the long term impact will be of Brexit on Czech citizens' interest in studying there.
"At least for the next academic year the number of Czech students who are registering for college studies in Great Britain will not necessarily decline as compared to the number of students who registered there in the past. We can infer that estimate from the fact that British Education Minister Damian Hinds, at the beginning of July 2018, said that EU students who begin studying in the United Kingdom as of 2019/2020 will still be subject to the current regime in terms of access to student loans and tuition charged," a spokesperson for the Czech Education Ministry told the Czech News Agency.
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