Campaigners lobby EU negotiator over Britons' rights

BiE's Fiona Godfrey with Michel Barnier and (left) Dimitri Scarlato of the3million

THE British in Europe (BiE) campaign group joined British MPs and lords to urge the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator to ring-fence citizens’ Brexit rights.

BiE’s co-chairwoman Fiona Godfrey told of the visit to see Michel Barnier in Brussels along with MPs and lords including Alberto Costa, a Conservative MP born in the UK to Italian parents who successfully obtained the backing of the UK Parliament for the ring-fencing idea.

Ring-fencing refers to the idea that the rights part of the negotiated Brexit withdrawal agreement, which aims to ensure that Britons living abroad in the EU and EU citizens abroad in the UK continue to live their lives as now as far as possible, should stand alone in the case of the UK being otherwise on course to leave the EU without a deal. In effect the rights section would itself become ‘the deal’.

Ms Godrey said: “We went in with a cross-party group and representatives of the3million [for EU citizens in the UK] and Mr Barnier met us with a senior member of his team, indicating that he took the initiative seriously.

“He said he has an open-door policy and is always willing to speak and that citizens’ rights has been the number one priority on the EU side from day one.

“It was a good and constructive and at some points frank discussion. Everyone was heard and expressed their concerns, hopes and suggestions so that was very positive.”

However Mr Barnier repeated his point of view that the best way for the rights to be protected is for the full deal to be passed by the MPs in London [his arguments have been set out in letters to the UK’s Brexit Minister, which are at this link: tinyurl.com/yyudjr8n], and that for him “the deal is still very much alive”.

His view is that it forms a whole and there are elements in other sections that are necessary for the rights section to function effectively.

He reiterated that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened now, though there remains a possibility that changes could be made to the political declaration on the future relationship which accompanies it.

“He reiterated that it is a good agreement and represents the best that could be achieved under the circumstances and it is up to the politicians in London to take it forward.”

He also said the Commission stands ready to assist EU states with their no-deal contingency plans, which he said were in place, and the EU is ready for a no-deal though he hopes it does not come to that.

Mr Barnier agreed to meet again with the MPs and lords, who now describe themselves as an ‘emergency taskforce on citizens’ rights’, in mid-October.

Mr Costa then wrote to the likely future prime minister Boris Johnson, urging urgent action and saying he risks 'presiding over the abrupt termination of the rights of over one million of our fellow British citizens exercising treaty rights in the EU' .

He added: "As a former UK government lawyer I can reasonably foresee an enormous unprecedented amount of litigation raised by British citizens against your government."

He asked how, if he intends to leave with no deal on rights, he will make bilateral deals with 27 states before October 31? He also asked for EU citizens' rights in the UK to be confirmed by a registration system, not an application to stay and for their rights to be guaranteed in primary legislation (an act of Parliament), which has not yet been done.

His letter can be found online at this link.

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