PM’s promises are no protection
British in Europe campaigners hit out at PM's 'no deal' promises
By Jack Troughton THERESA May’s unilateral ‘guarantee’ to European Union citizens living in the UK they would be welcome to stay even in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit has done little to reassure British expats, claims a campaign group.
British in Europe has hit out at the Prime Minister for failing to mention UK nationals living on the continent even as she aimed to reassure some 3.3 million Europeans whatever the outcome of negotiations.
It maintained the current position from London appeared to be that the remaining 27 members of the bloc must now do the same for 1.2 million British expats in Europe – instead of ring-fencing agreements reached last December over citizens’ rights.
British in Europe also said it was unable to explain people’s worries to the British government because two years after the historic June 2016 referendum, the prime minister and her Brexit Secretaries – first David Davis and currently Dominic Raab – have “either ignored or refused our requests for a meeting with them”; and said sister group ‘the3million’ which campaigned for Europeans living in Britain had also been blanked.
Yet British in Europe had twice met with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and had frequent contact with his team and had met EU Parliamentary spokesman Guy Verhofstadt.
And the group’s chair Jane Golding said: “We are a far cry from 2016 when Vote Leave and then the UK government promised that we were a top priority and that they would do everything they could to ensure nothing would change for us after Brexit.
“Many Brits on the continent have been anxious for two years and a minority are terrified about what ‘no deal’ would mean for them.”
Jane urged the EU-27 to “move faster” over a settlement for all citizens living abroad. “The idea that unilateral guarantees by themselves are equivalent to what’s been agreed in the – albeit inadequate – draft withdrawal agreement is incorrect.
“This is because neither side is in a position to unilaterally guarantee our rights on several important issues.” A prime example, she said, was the fact that 80% of British people living on the continent were working-age or younger – the workers paying into 27 different social security systems - and the same was true for EU citizens working in the UK.
“Without reciprocal arrangements, they won’t know what they will get back from their contributions in one country if they have worked in more than one country,” said Jane, a practising lawyer.
Under current EU arrangements, these contributions were brought together as if a person had only worked in one country; individual national laws laid down qualifying periods for pensions, European rules allowed everything to be counted in “one overall pension pot.”
And paying into a local system allowed expats to know they would be treated the same as host nationals in such things as parental leave, healthcare and benefits.
She said there was also the current universal recognition of qualifications – essential to working as before Brexit – but that also depended on cooperation between bodies and countries.
“This is why we are urging both the EU-27 and the UK to ring-fence the current withdrawal agreement even in its current form,” added Jane.
“Ring-fencing still won’t allow people to carry on their lives as before – because the current withdrawal agreement doesn’t cover several outstanding issues; for example, in the case of British in Europe, it doesn’t include free movement or cross-border working rights, which many of us rely on for our families’ livelihoods.
“Instead, free movement was kicked into the long grass of the future relationship negotiations where it predictably got stuck because of the Northern Irish border issue is proving so intractable.”
Jane said ‘ring-fencing’ in itself “would not make all our problems go away” but even in a ‘no deal’ scenario “we need it now to give very worried people certainty so they can get on with their lives...which is all that any of us ever wanted.”