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BREXIT

Brexit: Why won’t the EU act to protect the rights of Britons in Europe?

While the British government appears to have cottoned on to the importance of protecting the citizens' rights of Brits in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, Brussels appears reluctant to act. Five million people living in limbo are in need of action.

Brexit: Why won't the EU act to protect the rights of Britons in Europe?
Photo: Depositphotos

This week the British government published updated correspondence between its Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

The latest letter from Barclay to Barnier gave some hope to those campaigning for the rights of five million EU nationals in the UK and Britons throughout Europe.

Campaigners, backed by Conservative MP Alberto Costa, have been fighting for the citizens' rights part of the much-maligned Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to be ringfenced, meaning that part of the deal will still stand even if Britain crashes out of Europe without an agreement.

From his letter at least it appears that Barclay has clearly taken the side of campaigners from groups British in Europe and the 3Million which represents EU nationals in Britain.

“I'm sure you agree they make a persuasive case on the need to provide certainty to citizens in all scenarios,” says Barclay.

And while EU member states have taken steps to reassure the rights of Britons living in their countries that certain rights will be protected for a certain length of time Barclay points out “there are gaps in a number of areas in a number of member states”.

READ ALSO: 'Securing rights of Brits in Europe is legally possible, they just need to try'

DepositPhotos

The British in Europe campaign group, which says ringfencing is so “crucial to our rights and our lives”, welcomed Barclay's “clearly worded letter” that reflects “fairly and fully the issues we raised” in a recent meeting between the minister and campaigners.

British in Europe's co-chair Jane Golding said: “Mr Barclay is right that we are not asking for the withdrawal agreement to be re-opened. And a ringfenced withdrawal agreement is infinitely better than 28 unilateral national solutions that cannot resolve issues such as cross border social security contributions for working people, or health insurance for pensioners.”

With the British government apparently onside, the ball seems firmly in Barnier's court.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Remain in France Together (RIFT) told The Local: “So far the EU hasn't been willing to consider ringfencing citizens' rights under Article 50, though we hope that position will soften in the weeks to come, with a no-deal exit back on the table as an increasing risk. So we await Michel Barnier's response to this latest letter with anticipation.”

But despite support for ringfencing apparently growing among members of the European Parliament and indeed member states and lawyers firmly of the opinion that it can be done, the EU's Brexit negotiator Barnier has previously called it a “distraction” and already spelled out his reluctance to go down that path.

In a first letter to Barclay, Barnier stressed that the rights of Britons in the EU were a priority for Brussels and each individual member state, but that ringfencing would be too complicated given that so much of the Withdrawal Agreement is linked to citizens' rights.

“It is therefore far from straightforward to identify which provisions would need to be 'carved out' as part of the ringfencing exercise proposed by the House of Commons… with the risk of unequal treatment of certain categories of citizens,” Barnier wrote.

The EU's negotiator has promised that no British citizen would be “left in the dark” but with the next British Prime Minister likely to be ardent Brexiteer Boris Johnson, who has vowed Britain will leave the EU “with or without a deal” Barnier's promise offers little comfort to five million citizens living in limbo.

They need something far more legally binding than a promise not to be left in the dark and it needs to happen quickly.

“Both sides have a special duty of care to agree to do the right thing as quickly as possible, so that the people most directly affected by Brexit, and without a say about it, can get on with their lives with certainty’,” writes British in Europe's co-chair Jane Golding.

A spokesman for the European Commission told The Local: “We confirm that we received a letter this morning on citizens’ rights from Steve Barclay, the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. Michel Barnier will reply swiftly to this letter.

“The Commission has consistently made clear that the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and UK nationals in the EU are our priority.  

“The best protection for citizens is through the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, which contains substantive rights as well as an effective enforcement mechanism. The latter is particularly crucial in guaranteeing the protection of all rights over time.

“In case of a ‘no-deal’ scenario, the EU and the Member States have adopted contingency measures to ensure that UK nationals could remain legally resident in the period after a ‘no-deal’ Withdrawal. The Commission has worked with the EU27 Member States to ensure coherence in the overall approach. “

Member comments

  1. Barnier has always hated the Brits in my opinion, hence bad deal and not caring about Brits abroad

  2. The last thre paragraphs out line the approach the EU 27 will take; at the moment the EU 27 don’t know what protection will be needed the type of BREXIT may direct the approach taken. As for the comment “Barnier has always hated the Brits” it’s niether helpful or correct. The”bad deal and not caring about Brits abrao” is pure nonsence. A deal has been agreed and it’s the UK governments attitude that is the issusecausing problems for it’s citizens in Europe, in my opinion.

  3. The British have implemented the WA regarding citizens’ rights. This is the Pre-settled and Settled Schemes and is, barring date changes, the same for a “deal” and “no deal” Brexit. The EU has made “recommendations” on UK citizens’ to EU27 states in the event of a no deal. These recommendations are far below the WA implementation the UK has done. The EU chose to make the recommendations as weak as possible – they could have recommended reciprocity but didn’t.

  4. Will Brits with permanent residency in one EU country retain the right to move to another or remain land-locked and a second class EU resident ?

  5. deal or no deal – brits will be landlocked. Barnier and Junker have never liked the brits and totally undermined the remain campaign by contradicting cameron. some people in france are in danger of deportation anyway (deal or no deal) the whole thing is a mess. the WA was a one womans idea of what it should be, which is why it was rejected

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BREXIT

‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK. 

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