The Dutch state Thursday appealed a decision by an Amsterdam court to refer a landmark case over Brexit to Europe's top court, as British expats demand clarification of their rights as EU citizens.
In what is believed to be the first such case as Britain prepares to leave the European Union next year, five Britons living in the Netherlands and two expat organisations took the government to court in January.
They have argued that they have independent rights as EU citizens, over and above being citizens of any specific EU member country -- including Britain.
But lawyer Erik Pijnacker Hordijk, representing the Dutch government, told the appeals court Thursday that their case "is groundless" and should be ruled as "inadmissible".
Even in the event of a hard Brexit, where Britain would leave without a deal with the EU "it doesn't mean that British citizens who legally live in the Netherlands will lose their residency rights," he said.
"There is no chance that any of the plaintiffs will run the risk of being ejected from the country," he maintained.
Currently about 46,000 Brits live in the Netherlands and there was no reason "to believe ... that they will run a serious risk of being told to leave the country," he said.
But the group insist their legal rights as EU citizens -- including freedom of movement -- should remain and be protected by The Netherlands even after Britain withdraws from the 28-member body at midnight on March 29, 2019.
"Irrespective of how an eventual Brexit will look, the plaintiffs rights as EU citizens are already in jeopardy," the group's lawyer Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm told the judges.
In what could have far-reaching implications for about one million Brits on the continent, judge Floris Bakels in February asked the European Court of Justice to answer two preliminary questions.
The questions are: "Does Brexit mean that Britons automatically lose their European citizenship or do they maintain their rights, and if so, under what conditions?"
Observers say that should the ECJ indeed rule that Britons have separate implicit rights as EU citizens it could have massive implications -- including impacting current Brexit negotiations.
Dutch MPs were later Thursday to take up the issue with a special round table organised in parliament to discuss the ramifications of Brexit.
Some of the court plaintiffs and their lawyer, as well as pro-EU groups "British in Europe" and "the3million" were due to appear to "discuss the possible consequences of Brexit for citizens, business, government departments and civil society," a parliamentary notice said.