UK seeks to discuss ring-fencing Brexit rights

People standing in front of EU and UK flags

The British government has formally written to the EU saying it is open to discussing the ring-fencing of rights of Britons living in the EU and EU citizens in the UK - and asking the EU’s view on this.

This refers to separating off the citizens’ rights part of the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement, which covers a wide range of residency, work, social security and other issues,  so that it can stand alone. It would mean it should be honoured even if the UK leaves the EU with no overall deal. It comes after the UK Parliament voted for the ‘Costa amendment’ which asked the government to seek ring-fencing.

This would mean that key rights of Britons in the EU would be uniform across the EU whereas the no-deal Brexit scenario otherwise means Britons would rely on generous treatment by the states in which they live. France has taken legal steps to help with this but other matters like British state pension uprating and the healthcare of British pensioners in France beyond spring 2021 would require bilateral deals with the UK, and Britons in many other EU countries would face greater uncertainty.

No-deal without ring-fencing would also mean Britons in France would have to apply for ordinary third-country citizen residency cards, costing up to €269.

In a letter to EU negotiator Michel Barnier, UK Brexit Minister Steve Barclay says the UK still believes the agreement reached with the EU is the best way of providing confidence to expatriates that their rights will be protected, however he says the government supports the aim of the Costa amendment of ‘providing certainty to citizens whatever the outcome of negotiations’.

Mr Barclay says the UK’s approach to rights of EU citizens in the UK, which involves applying for 'settled status', is already based on the withdrawal agreement (though there would be some differences in the no-deal scenario, such as no transition period for new arrivals to benefit from the arrangements, a shorter time to apply for the status, and some restrictions on future family members joining the EU citizens in the UK).

In the letter the minister welcomes progress being made in EU states on rights of Britons but notes there is ‘variation’. He also welcomes the call from the European Commission to EU states to treat Britons in a ‘generous’ way.

However he adds that the UK has particular concerns with regard to healthcare arrangements (such as the right of British state pensioners to continue to have healthcare in France under the state reimbursement scheme), which are not covered by any EU-wide rules. France's recent ordonnance law on no-deal arrangements says nothing would change for British pensioners for two years but that future arrangements would depend on a bilateral negotiation with the UK.

Yesterday co-chairwoman of the British in Europe coalition Fiona Godfrey spoke in the European Parliament in a debate about citizens’ rights in which she appealed to the MEPs to ensure member states support the call to ring-fence rights.

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