If you get in trouble abroad, not being in the EU could make things that bit more troubling. Consular protection rights for EU citizens are not something that most people, however they voted in 2016, will have given any thought to. But in an age when far-flung international travel is more common than ever, there could come a time when it becomes very important.
This is another of those EU benefits, unmentioned in the referendum campaign, which we now look set to lose.
If UK citizens find themselves in trouble in a non-EU country where there is no UK embassy or other representation, they are entitled to protection under the consular authority of any of the other 27 EU member states. What’s more, we can expect to be treated the same as nationals from the relevant member state because we are EU citizens. The same applies vice versa for non-British EU nationals. This is enshrined in Articles 20 and 23 of the Lisbon Treaty and Article 46 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
In 2015 EU member states signed up to the Directive on Consular Protection, which came into force on May 1 2018. Article 9 clarified that member states had to provide protection or assistance to any EU citizen in the following circumstances:
● Arrest or detention
● Being a victim of crime
● A serious accident or serious illness
● Relief and repatriation in case of an emergency
● A need for emergency travel documents
A hypothetical example: if a UK citizen were robbed in Antigua and Barbuda – where there is no UK embassy or consulate – they could instead go to the Austrian consulate for help (or the Czech, Danish, German, Italian or Portuguese consulates for that matter). They would be treated as though they were an Austrian citizen. If any assistance incurred costs, then the UK citizen could expect these to be no different to the costs that an Austrian citizen would incur, thanks to Article 14 of the Consular Protection Directive.
This benefit may seem small, but it can be of huge comfort for anyone caught up in a crisis overseas. If the UK government secures any agreement that does not allow UK citizens to retain their EU citizenship then it will likely be the end of this valuable protection abroad.