The House of Commons Library (HoCL) has just published a briefing document entitled ‘Consular support for British citizens’ (https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2021-0210/CDP-2021-0210.pdf ).
It does so in advance of a Backbench Business Committee debate at Westminster on consular support for British citizens overseas which is scheduled for 9th December. The debate will be led by SNP MP Hannah Bardell.
Triggered by her experiences from constituency work, Ms Bardell has for some time called for UK citizens to be given a LEGAL RIGHT to consular assistance and ENSHRINE a duty of care towards British nationals who face difficulties overseas.
The Livingston MP has campaigned for better consular support after two constituents died in suspicious circumstances abroad. She is founder and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deaths Abroad, Consular Services and Assistance.
UK citizens – no legal right to consular services
The HoCL briefing reproduces this exchange in the Commons from 28 Oct 2020:
‘Asked by Hannah Bardell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, whether he plans to bring forward legislative proposals on the codification of the provision of consular services.
‘Answering member: Nigel Adams | Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office: ’There are no plans to bring forward legislative proposals to make consular assistance a legal right. Even if a right to assistance were to be enshrined in UK law, our ability to assist British nationals abroad would continue to remain dependent on co-operation from host countries and local laws. While there is no duty in international or domestic law to provide consular assistance, we strive to provide the right tailored assistance to those who need our help, doing more for those who most need our help.’
According to the HoCL briefing Ms Bardell has also said: “The UK government has NO LEGAL DUTY of care for British nationals overseas, and the guidance on who should receive help is VAGUE, CONFUSING AND AT THE DISCRETION OF CONSULAR STAFF. It’s time to put a right to consular assistance in law and ensure that citizens in difficulty abroad receive the help they deserve.’
Consular protection for EU citizens
It seems appropriate to remind ourselves of what we have lost being no longer citizens of the EU . It is also relevant to note what citizens of an independent Scotland will re-gain if we decide that Scotland should rejoin the EU.
Source: ’Consular Protection – The EU, your lifeline abroad’ (https://ec.europa.eu/justice/consular-protection/index_en.htm )
‘If you get into serious difficulties somewhere outside the EU, and your own country doesn’t have an embassy there, you can get help from another EU country’s embassy. This is YOUR RIGHT as an EU citizen. One day it may be your lifeline.’(my emphasis)
Now for some facts I found interesting in the context of an independent Scotland’s capacity to provide consular services:
- the number of non-EU countries in which all EU countries have an embassy = just 4! (USA, China, India and Russia)
- the number of EU citizens who go to or live in a place where their country is NOT REPRESENTED = c.7 million
- by right they can all rely on another EU member country’s consular services.
As an EU citizen you have a right to assistance from another EU country’s embassy in case of:
- Lost or stolen passport or ID card
- Serious accident or illness
- A crime, such as a mugging or serious assault
- Your arrest or detention
- Relief and repatriation in case of an emergency.
As a citizen of an EU member country ‘You and your family get assistance on the ground wherever you are in the world, even if your country isn’t represented there. You get the same treatment as a citizen of the country that is helping you. There is no discrimination.’
As more formally set out in EU documentation (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE (EU) 2015/637 of 20 April 2015): ‘The fundamental right to consular protection of unrepresented citizens of the Union under the same conditions as nationals, enshrined in Article 46 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter), is an expression of European solidarity. It provides an external dimension to the concept of citizenship of the Union and strengthens the identity of the Union in third countries.’