It comes as the European Union has given the UK an ultimatum to withdraw certain clauses from its new Internal Market Bill that the EU says constitute a “clear breach” of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) deal, an international treaty between the UK and EU that forms the basis for Brexit.
The British in Europe coalition, in a joint statement with the3million group representing EU citizens in the UK, says many people are now worried about implications for their rights and futures if the citizens’ rights part of the WA was also put at risk.
This section covers matters such as the right for Britons covered by the deal (ie. those resident in the EU before December 31, 2020) to maintain annually-uprated UK state pensions, or for pensioners to continue to hold S1 forms so that the UK pays for their healthcare in France.
The UK’s new bill, if adopted unchanged, is said to breach part of the WA treaty concerning the rules for the Northern Ireland / Ireland border. This should pose no immediate legal threat to the citizens’ rights section, an expert who helped negotiate the WA told The Connexion yesterday.
Even so, British in Europe say that if the UK does not intend to honour one part of the WA agreement, “it sends a message to the EU” that “it cannot be trusted to implement the other parts”, putting the deal further at risk.
BiE said calls from some British Brexiter MPs to scrap the WA deal altogether (if the parties cannot conclude a ‘future relationship’ deal in coming weeks) had only “reinforced that message”.
“The member states will rightly now question whether the UK will honour its obligations towards over three million EU citizens living within its borders,” BiE said.
The coalition said they had been aware that implementation of the citizens' rights part of the WA deal across the EU/EEA was going to be "challenging", but had "hoped that with good faith on both sides most of us would finally have some peace of mind about our futures by the end of 2021 at the latest."
"It appears that this hope was naïve. With this simple but devastating statement in the House of Commons [referring to the Northern Ireland Secretary's confirmation that the new bill will break international law in 'very specific' ways] and the publication of the draft bill, all certainty has vanished."
The group noted that the situation is “particularly worrying” for people in countries such as France which have (like the UK) explicitly adopted a system where people will have to reapply for their rights, as opposed to just applying to confirm rights. A French website to apply for a new residency card conferring the rights, is set to open in less than three weeks’ time.
BiE said: “Levels of trust were already low but this unprecedented act of bad faith towards our nearest neighbours and partners throws 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU under the bus yet again.”
The coalition called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to speak out to reaffirm his commitment to honouring the WA deal with regards both commitments to EU citizens in the UK and to British citizens in the EU.
It also asked that the EU countries stand by their obligations to Britons under the WA.
It added: “[We] shall continue to press the UK government to show that the UK still stands for decency, by keeping its word and honouring its obligations to citizens in full.”
The words were echoed in an official statement from the European Commission, after an emergency meeting yesterday of the Joint Committee overseeing the implementation of the WA deal.
The commission said: “… the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK. It is now up to the UK government to re-establish that trust.”
It added if necessary it would not be “shy” in making use of the “mechanisms and legal remedies” provided for in the WA treaty for addressing violations of obligations.