Brexit Minister to raise rights with EU today

People standing in front of EU and UK flags

The UK’s Brexit Minister is expected to raise again the idea of ring-fencing the rights of expatriates on both sides of the Channel when he meets with EU negotiator Michel Barnier today.

It comes as Mr Barnier has written again to Brexit Minister Steve Barclay, rejecting the idea of separating out the ‘citizens’ rights’ part of the withdrawal agreement (WA) to stand alone in the case of the UK otherwise leaving without a deal.

The rights in the WA include the automatic right to remain living abroad in other EU countries with less stringent requirements than those for ‘third country’ (non-EU) citizens. They would create a situation fairly similar to now and standardised across the EU and pre-agreed and protected for the future.

The alternative relies on Britain and individual EU countries passing laws to maintain certain rights (and not repealing them in future) and making bilateral agreements on others (such as pensioners’ healthcare or state pension uprating).

Reiterating views he gave in a previous letter in March, Mr Barnier insisted in his latest letter that the WA must be taken as a whole and that renewed efforts are now needed for the UK to leave  with the full negotiated deal.

However the UK government has taken on board the idea, promoted by campaign groups British in Europe (BiE) for Britons living abroad in the EU and the3million for EU citizens abroad in the UK, that the rights section of the WA could stand alone and effectively become ‘the deal’ if all else fails.

BiE said in a statement today: “Our message is clear, ring-fence what is is already agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement to protect us in case of no-deal. It is far from perfect and leaves major holes in some areas like freedom of movement and family reunification but it will allow hundreds of thousands of individuals to relax just a little over this, our third summer in limbo.”

BiE believes that the deal gives Britons abroad in countries including France more clarity and protection than relying on no-deal fall-back plans.

The negotiated deal includes rules protecting, among other matters, residency and working rights, pensioners’ healthcare and uprated state pensions and exportable disability benefits, as well as recognition of workers’ qualifications.

However in his latest letter Mr Barnier argued that the specific section of the WA dealing with citizens’ rights could not be separated out from other parts of it such as:

  • Provisions on judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters (eg. this could affect child custody disputes in divorce)
  • Participation in EU programmes like Erasmus+
  • Rules avoiding a hard Irish/Northern Irish border which will affect the lives of citizens in those areas
  • Sections dealing with the interpretation and application and enforcement of the deal, including its priority over any national laws and its 'direct effect’ and the fact that it should be interpreted in a way that is consistent with rulings of the European Court of Justice.

Mr Barnier said in his letter that if the UK preferred to leave without the WA then the EU and members states would “act in a responsible way, through unilateral measures”.

However BiE believe that “where there is a will there is a way”, and that it should be possible to maintain the agreed package of citizens’ rights, consistent across the EU and UK.

Unlike some other EU countries, France has passed no-deal laws on Britons’ rights giving more protection than if they were treated overnight as ordinary ‘third-country’ (non-EU) citizens, however they are not for example as protective as the deal in the case of those who have been in the country less than five years (they could also be cancelled if there is not reciprocity from the UK on rights matters, and even on other issues such as arrangements on transport of people and goods). 

The French laws also state, for example that British pensioners’ healthcare arrangements would remain the same for two years after a no-deal but continuation of the current arrangements in the future would depend on a bilateral deal with the UK.

British in Europe are continuing the lobbying efforts this month – following their visit to speak to British MPs at the Brexit select committee last week representatives will be in Brussels later this month to lobby MEPs and will also be in London this month to speak with a Home Office minister.

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Previous articles

Protect Britons rights, asks UK (The Connexion, July edition; paywall or subscribers) 

Ring-fence Britons’ Brexit rights – clarification 

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