‘No Brexit deal’ fears mean worry for Britons in EU

Rights of Britons in the EU would be up in the air if there is 'no deal'

Two groups for Britons abroad have told Connexion that reports of a possible ‘no deal’ scenario in the Brexit talks are causing increasing worry and insecurity to the British community in France.

This comes as European Council president Donald Tusk said the possibility of ‘no deal’ must be considered if ‘sufficient progress’ is not made by December’s council meeting and British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted in an interview that ‘no deal’ would leave expats dependent for their rights on their countries of residence.

A fifth round of negotiations is under way this week but there is tension over the issue of whether ‘sufficient progress’ has been made to open a second phase of talks, on matters such as trade and immigration, with the European Council expected to say next week that it has not. Reportedly no talks are taking place today because the UK negotiating team was not available.

A spokesman for the Ecreu group for Britons in the EU (part of British in Europe coalition), Dave Spokes, said: “It’s the big worry that everyone’s had since day 1 – that no deal at all means that everything ends overnight on March 29, 2019 and we’re left with no agreement on anything and everyone is left completely up in the air, not knowing what their futures are.

 “If they do walk away, it’s not only disastrous for us but a terrible thing for the country.

“People feel no more secure now than when the referendum was held – their concerns are still that we just don’t know what the future holds, we still don’t know and we’re at round five.

“Suggestions have been made on matters like maintaining healthcare, but nothing is in tablets of stone – nothing is ring-fenced – and there’s a very strong feeling out there that rights of EU citizens in the UK and therefore UK citizens in the EU are just part of a bargaining strategy: ‘if you don’t give us what we want on trade, we won’t look after your people’. And reciprocity has been the watchword from day 1 and if the UK does that, then Europe will adopt the same approach.

“The only positive thing I can say is it is unlikely most EU states would want us to all up sticks and go back to the UK, so a solution would probably be found, but that would be down to future negotiations in each country, so we just don’t know and it’s extraordinarily difficult.”

Mrs May has said the “ball is in the EU’s court” after her recent Florence speech in which she made some concessions on money and asked for a post-Brexit transition period. However Mr Spokes said if they are making a show of strength and waiting for the EU to back down, “the EU doesn’t work that way”.

“The EU has been upfront in all of these negotiations from day 1 and it’s the UK government that’s changed the rules. Going by what the EU have said, it seems that what the UK negotiators are now saying doesn’t accurately reflect the Florence speech and everything’s vague again.”

He added: “We can only hope that the impression we’re getting at the moment is the wrong one, and something positive comes out this week, but at the moment it looks like the UK government is more interested in playing politics and trying to sort out its internal squabbles and keeping people in power, rather than looking after their citizens.”

The chairman of the British Community Committee of France, Christopher Chantrey, said: “People are more and more worried and the threat of no deal is just growing. I think we have to wait and see what happens in the negotiations in Brussels this week, but it doesn’t look good.

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“The UK seems to think the EU is bluffing and will cave in, but it’s an approach that seems to indicate they don’t understand how these things work in the EU. There are 27 countries who’ve agreed the position – they appoint Mr Barnier as their agent to represent them, and there’s little latitude for him.”

He added: “If there is no deal it would mean that the gains we thought had been made in previous rounds when they said there won’t be frozen pensions and we will maintain S1s [for expat pensioners' healthcare rights], we lose that – if there’s no deal, there’s no deal, even though it was achieved in the negotiations. So it’s still very, very uncertain for us.”

Speaking to LBC radio yesterday, Mrs May admitted the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit are unclear. “There are certain rights that pertain to an EU citizen in the UK, by virtue of being an EU citizen, things like benefits they’re able to access in relation to the home country and in relation to the UK, some of those things would fall away if there was no agreement between us and the European Union.

“We’d have to look at those things separately if there’s a ‘no deal’ scenario. That’s why we’re working on what we would do in a ‘no deal’, but my overall message is that I want EU citizens to stay here in the UK and I want to be able to guarantee those rights and to enable them to stay, we’re not going to be throwing EU citizens who are currently here in the UK out of the UK in the future.

“We don’t know what would happen to Britons in the EU states, those countries would have to decide what their approach would be to them. This is one of the reasons why we want to get a deal."

She added: "By definition if there isn't a deal we won't have been able to agree with the EU, what happens to UK citizens living in countries like Spain and Italy and other countries of the EU."

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