Brexit Steering Group appeals to UK to ‘clarify position’ on Brexit
Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, including its leader Guy Verhofstadt, has urged the UK to “clarify its position” on Brexit.
Photo Credit: Press Association
The MEP-member group discussed the current Brexit state of play in light of last week’s meaningful vote and UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement on this on Monday.
Amid the latest impasse in the protracted Brexit negotiations, the MEPs said they welcomed the UK Government’s decision to waive the £65 fee for EU citizens applying for the UK’s settled status scheme, something they say the Parliament has consistently pushed for.
The group called on Member States to follow suit for all UK citizens residing in their territory.
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However, following the House of Commons’ rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, the UK Government must, says the group, “work together with all political parties to overcome this deadlock.”
After a meeting in parliament on Wednesday, they said they expect the UK side to “come back as quickly as possible with a positive and viable proposal on the way forward.”
The Steering Group said that the Withdrawal Agreement is “fair and cannot be re-negotiated” and that this applies especially to the Irish backstop, “since it is the guarantee that under no circumstances will there be a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the single market.”
“The EU remains clear, firm and united on this even if the negotiated backstop is not meant to be used,” the group said, adding that without such an “all-weather” backstop-insurance, the European Parliament will not give its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Under no circumstances will there be a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the single market” Brexit Steering Group
The MEPs also reiterated Parliament’s long-standing position that it is “open to a much more ambitious future relationship, should the UK consider this.”
The deputies, who also include Polish EPP member Danuta Hubner, German centre-right deputy Elmar Brok and Jo Leinen, a veteran German Socialist, will meet again immediately after the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the Commons on 29 January and the European Parliament will hold a debate at its sitting of 30-31 January.
UK Labour MEP Rory Palmer welcomed the move to scrap the £65 registration fee to apply for Settled Status but warned it should also be seen as a “cynical move that is too little and too late to provide reassurance for EU citizens currently living and working in the UK.”
Palmer told this website, "This is a significant victory for all those who have campaigned to protect the rights of EU citizens and against the fee. However, this also looks like a cynical attempt by a desperate [Theresa] May to buy some quick goodwill in Westminster and in Brussels.”
“For EU citizens in the UK, many of whom work in our NHS and public services, this announcement is in some ways too little and too late. People have been treated appallingly by this Government. If the Government had truly listened to the concerns of EU citizens, it would never have proposed this scandalous charge in the first place.”
“May failed to guarantee the rights of EU citizens following the referendum in 2016 and tens of thousands of hard-working people in towns and cities across our region were plunged into a lengthy period of uncertainty. This caused genuine distress and worry,” he added.
Last week, Palmer added his signature to a letter to EU leaders signed by 25 cross-party MEPs, calling for citizens’ rights to be ring-fenced in the Brexit negotiations.
“[Theresa] May failed to guarantee the rights of EU citizens following the referendum in 2016 and tens of thousands of hard-working people in towns and cities across our region were plunged into a lengthy period of uncertainty. This caused genuine distress and worry” Rory Palmer MEP
"This is about real people. Doctors and nurses, builders and plumbers, social workers and carers, teaching assistants, academics, business owners and entrepreneurs, students and school children. People who make a huge contribution to our local communities and our country. Real people and real lives, not an abstract issue on the fringes of the Brexit negotiations.”
Palmer said it was “simply outrageous” for Theresa May's Government to propose charging a fee to EU citizens applying for settled status, many of whom have worked and paid taxes in the UK for many years.
“I have called on the [UK] Home Office to provide and fund good quality face-to-face support to EU citizens throughout this process - not just telephone and online advice. We need to understand the detail behind the Prime Minister’s statement and I will be putting further questions to the Government in the days ahead.”
“Uncertainty continues to face UK citizens living and working in other Member States. Some have made clear that they will protect the rights of those UK nationals, but given this continued uncertainty I now want the EU27 to reach an urgent and unified agreement on this to provide security and certainty to UK nationals.”
Palmer concluded, “Whilst I am pleased that the Prime Minister heard the clear message from those of us who have been consistently calling for a compassionate and reasonable approach to citizens living and working in the UK, vigilance is required and I will continue to argue the case for fair treatment of EU citizens living and working in the UK and UK nationals in other EU states.”
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