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No change on ring-fencing Brexit rights

A ‘constructive’ meeting took place yesterday with the EU, says the UK’s Brexit minister, including discussion on the rights of Britons abroad in the EU - however neither side report any change in attitude.

10 July 2019
By Oliver Rowland

The minister, Steve Barclay, raised again the idea of ‘ring-fencing’ the citizens’ rights part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in the case of the UK otherwise leaving with no-deal, however while he said it was brought up again he did not indicate if further progress was made. 

It comes as British Conservative MP Alberto Costa, who was responsible for a parliamentary motion that originally called on the UK to support ring-fencing, has written to EU negotiator Michel Barnier asking for a face-to face meeting to discuss solutions.

In a tweet Mr Barclay called yesterday’s meeting constructive and referred to continuing dialogue, however EU sources said the latter related more to talks on ‘alternative arrangements’ – a phrase which refers to hypothetical ways in which the UK can avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

However there has been no change in the EU’s position on ring-fencing or on the need for the ‘Irish backstop’ (the most controversial part of the withdrawal agreement, requested by Theresa May, which keeps the whole of the UK in a customs union and a single market for goods until such a time as ‘alternative arrangements’ to keep the border open may be found, such as new technologies).

In a recent letter to Mr Barclay, Mr Barnier reiterated his view that the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement cannot, for practical reasons, be lifted out to stand on its own.

Asked for further comment on any progress yesterday, Mr Barclay’s ministry merely confirmed that “they discussed a range of topics, including citizens’ rights” and “they have agreed to remain in touch”.

Yesterday Mr Costa, who was born in the UK to Italian parents, sent a letter to Mr Barnier in which he asked for an urgent meeting between Mr Barnier and himself as part of a ‘British Parliamentary Emergency Taskforce on Citizens’ Rights’.

Mr Costa said he was writing in view of the recent exchange of letters between Mr Barnier and Mr Barclay, adding: “Whilst the British government’s leadership is going through a period of transition, senior colleagues from across the House of Commons and the House of Lords and importantly from across the Brexit divide, request an urgent meeting with you.

“Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the issue of citizens’ rights must be resolved in favour of all UK and EU nationals most directly affected by this on-going situation.”

He said he hoped that such a meeting would be “cordial” and would help them “better understand why the issue of citizens’ rights remains unresolved and… what solutions we might best consider fair and practicable”.

Among the other signatories were two other Conservatives and three Labour MPs, including Hilary Benn, who chairs the House of Commons’ Brexit select committee.

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Brexit Minister to raise rights with EU today

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