Expats’ rights ‘will be early priority’ in Brexit talks

EU and UK flags flying outside a red brick building

It is said that EU negotiators are willing to leave to one side the controversial issue of Britain's precise 'divorce bill' so as to move on to expat rights on both sides of the Channel

Once Brexit negotiations get under way, EU chiefs are reportedly ready to prioritise discussing rights of Britons in the EU and EU citizens in the UK before the nitty-gritty of the ‘divorce bill’ has to be agreed.

The clarifications came from a former prime minister of Finland, following a recent meeting with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

As the formal start of Brexit looms larger with the passing of the Brexit Bill, the comments may provide some reassurance that the talks will not immediately founder on the rocks of the financial details of Britain’s exit bill, as some commentators had feared.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Alex Stubb said the UK would only have to agree on ‘broad principles’ of the payment then discussions would move on to the principles for EU citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU, before discussion is then opened up to cover all relevant areas.

Mr Barnier is also reportedly prepared to allow negotiations on the UK’s ‘future relationship with the EU’ to get under way in parallel with the article 50 ‘divorce’ agreement talks.

This means the UK’s wish to get on with trade talks as soon as possible - not after the country leaves the EU - may be possible.

It has been suggested that that the final bill for the UK could be as much as €60billion. It is expected to include, for example, completing certain payments into EU funds helping deprived regions to which the UK had already agreed, as well as payments towards EU civil service pensions.

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A cross-party committee of Lords recently concluded that Britain would not be ‘legally obliged’ to make any more payments to the EU in the event of the country coming out with no deal, however they warned that failure to reach an agreement on financial terms would undermine the government’s wish to continue to have favourable access to the EU market.

New research commissioned by Labour MP Pat McFadden – linked to the Open Britain group which campaigns for a ‘soft’ exit – found that no members of the G20 group of developed nations trades with the EU under basic World Trade Organisation rules, meaning if the UK came out without any deal it would have the least favourable trading terms of the whole group.

Last night the Brexit Bill was stripped by MPs of amendments the Lords had added to protect rights of EU citizens in the UK unilaterally and to give a ‘meaningful vote’ to the UK parliament on the Brexit deal before the UK may agree to it.

The bill was then unopposed by the House of Lords, which backed down in the face of the government and Commons’ wishes, so the way is now cleared for it to have Royal Assent and become law.

Speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May might then trigger article 50 immediately turns out to have been unfounded, with the government saying it is still aiming for the original deadline of a trigger ‘by the end of the month’.

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