Brexit: ‘Withdrawal Agreement or nothing’ – EU deals new blow to rights of Britons

Despite pressure from the UK and campaigners the EU's chief Brexit negotiator has again snubbed the idea that the rights of Brits in the EU and Europeans in the UK could be safe-guarded to avoid the upheaval of a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit: 'Withdrawal Agreement or nothing' - EU deals new blow to rights of Britons
Michel Barnier has dealt a new blow to hopes of citizens' rights being ring-fenced.

Campaigners for the rights of Britons living in the EU were given a boost recently when the UK's Brexit Minister Steve Barclay wrote a letter to the EU to push for the citizens' rights part of the Brexit deal to be ring-fenced.

That would mean the rights of Britons in the EU and European citizens in the UK would be protected – or at least those agreed in Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement  – even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

But the EU's Brexit negotiator has once again poured cold water on the idea in a written reply to Barclay.

Michel Barnier insists that the Brexit deal is the best and perhaps only multilateral agreement that could protect citizens' rights and must be agreed as a whole package.

Below is an extract from the letter published June 24th.

Barnier says: “There is no other way to achieve all the benefits that the Withdrawal Agreement provides.”

Barnier said that if the Withdrawal Agreement is not signed – and at this point it looks dead in the water, given that Boris Johnson is the next likely British Prime Minister – then each EU member state would take the necessary action to protect Britons.

Barnier's letter should not be read as a complete rejection of ring-fencing citizens' rights, with campaigners insisting that member states could still agree to it and the political will must come via the European Council.

Nevertheless they were left feeling let down by his response.

“We are very disappointed, quite frankly,” British in Europe's Jeremy Morgan told a Westminster Committee hearing this week.

Morgan said he felt the EU were being “unreasonable” but urged the UK to keep up the pressure.

“It is absolutely critical that any default agreement, if I can call it that, on citizens’ rights takes place before Britain’s exit.

“We would strongly encourage the British Government to keep up the pressure. We are doing so, for our part, among the nation states in the EU, and centrally in our lobbying there.”

British in Europe's Jane Golding added: “This will only move if the EU Council makes a decision, so the decision on this lies in each of the EU27.”


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‘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.