European Parliament urged to ringfence citizens’ rights in event of no-deal Brexit

Written by Martin Banks on 9 October 2019 in News
News

A hearing in Parliament on Tuesday heard that this is vital to ensure that the rights of over 5 million people are “saved, not shredded.”

Photo credit: Press Association


Speaking at the hearing, Jane Golding, of the “British in Europe” group, appealed to the institution to make sure citizens’ rights are protected even if the UK crashes out of the EU on 31 October without an agreement.

She likened the current situation to a “sinking ship,” adding, “there are life boats and life jackets on the ship – the equivalent of the Withdrawal Agreement – but they are not being used and the ship is about to sink.”

Golding said citizens whose rights will be directly impacted by a no-deal Brexit will, instead, be “at the mercy” of 27 “different rescue boats” – in other words the EU27.


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“The issue has effectively been outsourced to 27 other countries,” she told the meeting, which was organised by the constitutional affairs committee.

Her warning comes with hopes fast receding of a deal being brokered by 31 October, the day set by the UK government to exit the EU.

Golding told the meeting her group represents some 1.2 million UK citizens who live and work on mainland Europe, 80 percent of whom are of working age, adding, “These and myself are the children of the European Project but they are being abandoned. If there is a no deal our rights will evaporate overnight.”

She noted the “very large” percentage of the total number of EU citizens who use freedom of movement (FOM) rights that her group represents, about one third of the 17 million who have ever made use of FOM.

“These are the children of the European Project but they are being abandoned. If there is a no deal our rights will evaporate overnight” Jane Golding, British in Europe group

The Italy-based Golding challenged the EU and UK, “having promised much” over the past three years since the EU Referendum, “to stand up for the rights” of the estimated 1.5 million Britons in the EU.

There are also at least 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK, whose rights are also directly threatened.

Golding said the rights of EU and UK nationals were in danger of being “shredded, not saved.”

Given the threat of an imminent no-deal Brexit, she stressed that “the time to safeguard rights is now” and that if an extension is agreed, “ring fencing our rights needs to be a priority.”

She told MEPs, “The situation of these EU citizens, who have lived in uncertainty for more than three years now, is even more uncertain than it was in March. With just days to go until 31 October, the UK is in the throes of a constitutional crisis, and there is no clarity whether there will be a deal or not.”

“We have all been badly let down by the UK government, which, for all its protestations to the contrary, never made its own citizens living in the EU27 a priority.”

Golding told the committee she had been an EU citizen “in some form or another” since the age of 7 – a total of 46 years.

“If there is a No Deal, ringfencing our rights is the only way they will be protected.  We are asking for a commitment on this from the EU, including this Parliament” Dimitri Scarlato, the 3million

She said, “It appears that the root of the problem is that the UK does want to go backwards, or at least part of the population does, as well as the current government. But the EU does not need to go backwards too, especially on citizens’ rights.

“Now we have reached the point where, if there is no deal, those EU rights deriving from EU law, which the EU said it would protect, would evaporate at EU level and 5 million of the only 17 million citizens who fully exercise their free movement rights in the EU would simply default to third country nationals overnight without any protection of their former status at EU level.”

“They will lose all EU citizenship rights, while EU citizens in the UK will lose those rights they have exercised in the UK.”

Golding continued, “No deal is a disaster as there will be 28 unilateral national solutions for the 5 million citizens most directly affected by Brexit, their status dependent on where they live. In other words, not an EU solution at all: instead the EU has outsourced the problem of UK citizens’ rights to the EU27, encouraging the EU27 to be generous, with varying degrees of success, while EU 27 citizens will have to rely on a UK national solution.”

Golding’s comments were echoed by another speaker, Dimitri Scarlato, from the UK-based 3million group.

He said, “I must be harsh and say that the EU could be doing more in turning its nice words on the rights issue into action.”

“It is clear a no-deal Brexit will jeopardise the rights of millions of people. As we have heard today, these problems are getting worse” Antonio Tajani

“If there is a No Deal, ringfencing our rights is the only way they will be protected.  We are asking for a commitment on this from the EU, including this Parliament. It is vital that these rights are legally ringfenced before, not after, 31 October. If that does not happen our rights are at risk of changing at any time.”

He also pointed to the “great difficulties” EU citizens in the UK have had in applying for settled status. EU citizens in the country are requested to apply via Android phones, he said, but 52 percent of these were unable to do so because they do not possess such devices.

Both had been invited to speak about the problems facing citizens by the influential committee which is chaired by Antonio Tajani, Parliament’s former president.

Tajani, an Italian EPP member, said, “It is clear a no-deal Brexit will jeopardise the rights of millions of people. As we have heard today, these problems are getting worse.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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