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A new, independent body set to protect the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK and Gibraltar launched in Swansea at midnight on the 31st December 2020 as the transitional regime covering the exit of the UK and Gibraltar from the EU ended.

Sponsored by the UK Ministry of Justice, the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) will be responsible for advocating for the effective application of citizen’s rights.

We chat to former MEP for Gibraltar and Chair of the IMA, Sir Ashley Fox, for further insight into the organisation and his role within it. 

Tell us a little about the IMA, and its aims. 

The IMA monitors and promotes rights for citizens secured by the Withdrawal Agreement and EEA EFTA Separation Agreement. The main focus is likely to be the rights of EU and EEA EFTA (people from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) citizens living in the UK and Gibraltar. We monitor public bodies in the UK and Gibraltar to make sure they uphold these rights and to identify any systemic issues. 

Our aim is to gather the experiences of real people to guide the work of the organisation and work collaboratively with public bodies to ensure rights are upheld and to remedy any underlying issues. 

What drew you to your new role as Chair of the IMA, and what does it entail? 

I want to ensure that the UK has the best possible relations with our friends and allies in Europe. A key part of that is ensuring that the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Gibraltar are respected.

The Board of the IMA will set the strategy of the organisation and scrutinise the executive officers.

As Chair, in what areas will you be able to offer support to British territories?

EU and EEA EFTA citizens living in Gibraltar are covered by the agreements which underpin the work of the IMA. This means the IMA can receive complaints from those eligible citizens living in Gibraltar where they consider that they are not able to fully enjoy the rights secured by those agreements. Where such complaints indicate a systemic issue, the IMA will be able to undertake an inquiry to identify where things can be improved so that those eligible citizens fully benefit from their rights. 

UK citizens have the same rights in EU countries as EU citizens have in the UK and Gibraltar. The EU Commission will be monitoring the effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in EU Member States. Similarly, the rights of UK citizens living in Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland are monitored by the EFTA Surveillance Authority.

The IMA promotes the rights of EU, EEA, and EFTA citizens. What rights specifically will the IMA ensure are respected and protected by public bodies?

The citizens’ rights that the IMA covers are set out in Part II of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and Part II of the EEA EFTA Separation Agreement.

Rights agreements between the UK and EU cover four areas including the right to live in the UK and Gibraltar, the right to work, recognition of professional qualifications and the right to access housing, healthcare, education, benefits and other state services.

The right to equal treatment and the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of nationality apply to all these rights.

What sanctioning powers does the IMA have in the event that they find a UK or Gibraltar authority to have acted unfairly?

We aim to work with public authorities in order to resolve issues at the earliest opportunity. However, we have the powers to launch inquiries and bring legal action, if appropriate, against bodies that don’t uphold the rights of citizens.

What is your opinion of the New Year’s Eve ‘In-Principle’ Agreement, affording Gibraltar Schengen rights?

We will keep a close eye on developments in order to fully understand the impact on the rights of EU and EEA EFTA citizens living in Gibraltar and how that will be relevant to the work of the IMA in Gibraltar. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the application of citizens’ rights in Gibraltar and will seek to listen to the experiences of people from the EU and EEA EFTA countries to assess whether they are able to enjoy the same freedoms as before.

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