Brexit talks stum­ble on rights of Bri­tons liv­ing in Europe

Brus­sels stands firm over re­cip­ro­cal deal for EU na­tion­als based in UK

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk News - Jen­nifer Rankin Brus­sels

Bri­tish peo­ple liv­ing in the Euro­pean Union could lose the right to live in an­other EU mem­ber state af­ter Brexit, it has emerged.

Bri­tish of­fi­cials raised the is­sue with their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts dur­ing three-and-a-half days of in­tense tech­ni­cal talks in Brus­sels last week. The EU made clear it would not move with­out a re­cip­ro­cal of­fer for Euro­pean na­tion­als liv­ing in Bri­tain that would al­low them to move to an­other EU coun­try and re­turn to the UK.

The dis­cus­sions un­der­score the un­cer­tainty fac­ing nearly 5 mil­lion peo­ple caught on the wrong side of the Brexit di­vide, although both the UK and the EU have made cit­i­zens’ rights a top pri­or­ity in Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Around 1.2 mil­lion Bri­tish na­tion­als liv­ing in the EU would be af­fected – a Bri­tish na­tional cur­rently liv­ing in Ger­many, for ex­am­ple, would be un­able to move to France, Aus­tria or any other EU mem­ber state af­ter Brexit. The out­come could be seen as counter to the EU’s stated aim of al­low­ing cit­i­zens to live their lives “as if Brexit never hap­pened”.

Se­nior EU of­fi­cials said they were ready to look at the is­sue, but the UK had to make a re­cip­ro­cal of­fer to pro­tect the 3.5 mil­lion EU na­tion­als liv­ing in the UK, to al­low, for ex­am­ple, a Ger­man res­i­dent in Manch­ester to re­turn to their home coun­try for a few years and then re­sume life in the UK.

A UK source close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions said there was agree­ment on 50% of the is­sues on cit­i­zens’ rights. “But we still have doubts about the EU’s plans and their com­mit­ment to up­hold­ing cit­i­zens’ rights,” the source added. “The UK has put a se­ri­ous of­fer on the ta­ble, but there are sig­nif­i­cant gaps in the EU’s of­fer.”

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has pro­posed “set­tled sta­tus” for EU na­tion­als, but this would be lost if a per­son left the UK for more than two years, un­less they could prove they had strong ties.

The EU is seek­ing an open-ended guar­an­tee that would al­low Euro­pean cit­i­zens to re­set­tle in Bri­tain af­ter an in­def­i­nite pe­riod liv­ing in an­other coun­try. “We would start from the as­sump­tion that in or­der to main­tain the right of EU cit­i­zens to move around the EU27, this would re­quire the UK to re­cip­ro­cate by al­low­ing EU cit­i­zens to con­tinue mov­ing around freely,” a se­nior EU of­fi­cial said. “This is a sub­ject of ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

The is­sue emerged dur­ing de­tailed talks on pro­tect­ing cit­i­zens’ rights, a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive is­sue that touches em­ploy­ment, healthcare, pen­sion rights and ed­u­ca­tion.

Although the UK’s Brexit sec­re­tary, David Davis, said he was en­cour­aged by progress, the talks ex­posed a deep divi­sion over the Euro­pean court of jus­tice. The EU wants the ECJ to re­solve any dis­pute over cit­i­zens’ rights, while the Bri­tish are adamant that Bri­tish courts should be the venue for a coun­try no longer part of the EU.

Theresa May has vowed to take the UK out of ECJ ju­ris­dic­tion and the EU’s de­mands are seen as “ju­di­cial im­pe­ri­al­ism” by Lon­don. Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors think it is “a big ask” to give EU na­tion­als the right to take the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment to a for­eign court, mak­ing clear that the is­sue will re­main a di­vid­ing line un­til an EU sum­mit in Oc­to­ber.

The EU vowed to de­fend the role of the ECJ in pro­tect­ing the rights of its na­tion­als. “This is not a po­lit­i­cal point we are mak­ing, it is a le­gal one,” said the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier. “Only the court can in­ter­pret EU law; it is not a choice, it is an obli­ga­tion. We want our cit­i­zens to be pro­tected by EU law.”

The talks on cit­i­zens’ rights re­vealed other divi­sions and ques­tions: • When EU na­tion­als ap­ply to stay in Bri­tain, Bri­tish of­fi­cials want to run crim­i­nal record checks on them that dif­fer from those al­lowed un­der EU law. EU ne­go­tia­tors said they needed more de­tails. • The 1.2 mil­lion Bri­tish na­tion­als in other EU coun­tries should be able to get doc­u­ments to prove their postBrexit sta­tus, Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors have said. The EU does not see this as a pri­or­ity. • Bri­tain wants to keep the Euro­pean health in­sur­ance card, which en­ti­tles Bri­tish trav­ellers to free or low-cost state-pro­vided healthcare in Europe. But it re­mains un­clear whether the EU will agree to this. • The Bri­tish side thinks the EU has ig­nored tens of thou­sands of “posted work­ers” who have been sent to the UK on short-term con­tracts. The EU ar­gues that posted work­ers should not be part of the cit­i­zens agree­ment, be­cause they con­tinue to pay na­tional in­sur­ance to their home coun­tries.

Bri­tish of­fi­cials sought to re­as­sure the EU that they wanted to pre­serve EU cit­i­zens’ rights un­der ex­ist­ing Euro­pean law and were not try­ing to in­vent a new sys­tem. But they have been ir­ri­tated by ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing un­pre­pared and fail­ing to come up with a se­ri­ous of­fer.

The Euro­pean par­lia­ment has threat­ened to re­ject any di­vorce deal that leaves Euro­pean cit­i­zens worse off than they are now. Pri­vately some Euro­pean diplomats think the EU is closer to the Bri­tish than the heated rhetoric sug­gests. Cit­i­zens’ rights are likely to be an area where the EU is look­ing for the most de­tailed guar­an­tees when it as­sesses whether the UK has made “suf­fi­cient progress” for talks to move to the next phase. Barnier is ex­pected to make a rec­om­men­da­tion to lead­ers at a sum­mit in Oc­to­ber.

Whereas the fi­nal di­vorce bill will be de­lib­er­ately vague and the text on Ire­land could be lim­ited to a po­lit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tion, the EU wants pre­cise guar­an­tees on cit­i­zens’ rights.

Three more rounds of Brexit talks are sched­uled for Au­gust, Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, ahead of that sum­mit.


Stranded … around 1.2 mil­lion UK cit­i­zens in Europe could face res­i­dency re­stric­tions if there is an im­passe

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