Premier warned of no deal ‘disaster’
Campaigners delivered their letter to No10 Downing Street
By Jack Troughton UK PRIME Minister Theresa May was this week warned of ‘disastrous’ and ‘far reaching consequences’ for five million people should Britain crash out of the European Union without a deal.
A letter to the premier hand-delivered to No10 Downing Street on Monday during a lobby of Parliament in London and calls for urgent steps to be taken to ‘do the right thing’ and protect the rights of UK citizens living in Europe and EU nationals resident in Britain. The letter was jointly penned by British in Europe, a coalition of expat groups across the EU; the3million, representing Europeans living in the UK; and the trade union UNISON.
It said the three campaign groups were extremely concerned about the current state of Brexit negotiations and the implications for the rights of expats.
And it underlined the fact these were five million people – not ‘bargaining chips’ – adding: “And it is time we were treated as such”.
The letter also underlines the ‘shame’ in denying over 60% of British expats and ‘almost all’ EU citizens a vote in the 2016 referendum that returned the ‘leave’ verdict.
Beginning “Dear Prime Minister”, the letter reads: “Little progress was made at the October European Council and there is now a very real threat of no deal. This will have disastrous and wide-reaching consequences for this group of citizens on both sides of the channel.
“We therefore urge you to take steps now to remove citizens’ rights from the straitjacket of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.”
Mrs May was reminded of her statement to the House of Commons in June 2017, when she said: “I am making (citizens rights) an immediate priority at the beginning of negotiations. But that agreement must be reciprocal because we must protect the rights of UK citizens living in EU member states too.”
It was accepted Mrs May had promised to unilaterally protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK should there be a no deal but said this was not a comprehensive solution; British citizens in the remaining 27 countries could be illegal residents with no legal status on March 30 next year and dependent on the individual solutions provided by their host state, and key areas of rights – including pensions, healthcare, social care – required coordination between the UK and EU.
Instead, the trio of groups called for both sides to honour the agreement reached under Article 50 on citizens’ rights ‘as a minimum’ whatever the outcome of Brexit.
“We urge you to approach (EU negotiator) Michel Barnier and the EU27 member states and suggest committing now to implementing the citizens’ rights part of the draft withdrawal agreement, even if it is the only aspect to be agreed on,” they noted.
And it calls for the accord to be strengthened to give UK expats free movement across the EU and EU citizens a lifelong right of return to the UK – a proposal first put forward by Britain in September last year.
It is also asked that UK and EU citizens can move back to their country of origin without domestic immigration legislation – there is also an issue over ‘ harsher rules’ – and this should be reciprocated.
The letter describes the loss of voting rights as ‘one of the most undemocratic and shameful aspects of Brexit’ because of people denied a referendum voice and asks for EU nationals in the UK to be able to vote in local elections and to push for similar rights for Britons across the EU.
Further, the letter states that where procedures require citizens to register for a new status within the UK or EU were implemented ‘these should be simple, clear, and free of charge’.
Mrs May was told: “In the UK, EU citizens need complete legal certainty from you on how the new settled status scheme will be implemented. The UK Government has stated there will be no checks on health insurance or sufficient resources, but the withdrawal agreement does not prevent future governments or Home Office immigration rules from introducing such checks.
“As a gesture of goodwill, we are calling for you to ensure your political commitments are made legally binding at the EU/UK level and confirmed by the UK Parliament.”
Mrs May was also asked to issue physical proof of settled status to reduce the risk of discrimination in people’s daily lives.
“As the Windrush scandal has shown, people need documents to evidence their rights in the UK within the framework of the hostile environment.”
Finally, the letter stressed MPs should be reminded ‘of their duty of care to EU constituents and British citizens abroad’ and asked Mrs May ‘to honour the political promises made to us, no matter what the outcome of Brexit negotiations’.
Expats took the letter to No 10