British expats living in Europe have won the right to mount a legal challenge to argue that the EU cannot take their rights away after Brexit.
Five expats living in The Netherlands had asked a court in Amsterdam for leave to argue their case before the European Court of Justice.
A judge has now ruled that the case can proceed.
Their concern is they may lose existing rights to live and work in The Netherlands and their right to freely move between EU states because of Britain leaving the bloc following the referendum vote in June 2016.
A spokesman for Brexpats – Hear Our Voice, which led the challenge, said: “We are grateful to the court and obviously delighted with the decision. However, this is just the first step in clarifying what Brexit could mean for our EU citizenship.
“This case has always been about seeking clarification, not only for the 46,000 Brits living in the Netherlands, but also for all the 1.2 million Brits living in other EU countries.
“As has been demonstrated in recent days, what Brexit means is still extremely unclear. You cannot play with the lives of 1.2 million people as if they are pieces on a chessboard.”
The group are asking the ECJ to rule if Brexit means British nationals will automatically lose their EU citizenship and the rights associated with that status, including freedom of movement.
If the answer is no, then the judges are asked to determine what, if any, conditions or limitations should apply to maintaining those rights once Britain leaves the EU.
The case was funded by Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer behind several Brexit challenges in the British courts.
Maugham said he outcome of the case would be “profoundly important” for British expats in the EU.
“The UK courts seem to find themselves cowed by the political dynamic. I’m very pleased that judges elsewhere are able to separate out political and legal considerations,” he said.
Brexpats – Hear Our Voice is a pro-EU group with 1,100 members across Europe. The group was set up by British expat Debbie Williams to campaign to safeguard the rights of UK nationals living in Europe after Brexit.