UK MEPs call on EU to ring-fence citizens’ rights post-Brexit

Written by Martin Banks on 21 January 2019 in News
News

British MEPs from across the political divide have called on the EU to “ring-fence” citizens’ rights after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo Credit: Press Association


In a letter sent to EU Council President Donald Tusk, chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and head of Parliament’s Brexit steering group, Guy Verhofstadt, the 25 MEPs say current guarantees for citizens amount to no more than “piecemeal national legislation which can be adjusted or overturned at any moment.”

The one-page letter, seen by this website, says that the EU, if necessary, should “unilaterally” ring-fence the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe. It urges the UK to do the same.

The letter reads, “It is unacceptable that our citizens have been subject to such uncertainty so long and where we fully recognise the failure is on the UK side we now need the EU to live up to its promises given that it has the capacity to do so.”


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“We have reached a point where it is entirely possible that nothing will be agreed at all. We therefore urge you to now look at salvaging whatever possible on the behalf of our citizens who are so desperately seeking reassurances,” it adds.

The letter, dated 17 January, is signed by, among others, Scottish Labour MEP David Martin and party colleague Richard Corbett, Charles Tannock from the ECR group, SNP deputy Alyn Smith and Molly Scott Cato from the Greens.

It says the “scale” of May’s Commons defeat “means that the deal as it currently stands seems very unlikely to ever pass the Commons. This would mean that the operative provisions on citizens’ rights may not come into effect, impacting on millions of citizens.”

The MEPs’ letter was welcomed by Roger Casale, a former Labour MP who has campaigned for citizens’ rights.

“It is unacceptable that our citizens have been subject to such uncertainty so long and where we fully recognise the failure is on the UK side we now need the EU to live up to its promises given that it has the capacity to do so” Group of 25 UK MEPs

“We welcome the support from the cross-party group of British MEPs for our campaign for unilateral guarantees for Britons in Europe and we would like to thank Julie Ward MEP in particular, who has led this campaign on our behalf in the European Parliament since 2016, when she tabled an urgent question with the support of a cross-party group of MEPs from a number of EU member states,” Casale told this website.

“Britons in Europe are EU citizens and not just British expats and we have always argued and continue to argue that the EU has a duty to protect their rights directly on that basis and not through a degrading and humiliating process of horse-trading in the context of the withdrawal deal.”

Casale, founder of New Europeans, said, “We also call on the EU to support our campaign for an EU Green Card to ring-fence the status and the rights of the 5 million EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe post-Brexit. This is needed in addition to unilateral guarantees of residency so that EU citizens in the UK have a physical proof of status and Britons in Europe can retain their rights to freedom of movement."

Casale pointed out that his group wrote to Michel Barnier as soon as Theresa May made her announcement that she would offer unilateral guarantees to EU 27 citizens in November.

“The letter is still open if people would like to sign, as is our petition calling for the Green Card,” he said.

‘PLAN B’

The move by the British MEPs comes with little sign of a breakthrough in the current Brexit impasse.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was due to tell the UK Parliament what she now proposes following last week’s heavy Commons defeat of the withdrawal agreement.

“Britons in Europe are EU citizens and not just British expats, and we have always argued and continue to argue that the EU has a duty to protect their rights directly on that basis and not through a degrading and humiliating process of horse-trading in the context of the withdrawal deal” Roger Casale, New Europeans

May’s ‘Plan B’ for the Brexit deal, to be presented to the House of Commons today, will focus on renegotiating the backstop in order to win over Conservative Brexiteers and the DUP.

During a conference call with the Cabinet yesterday, there was “broad agreement on the need to bring DUP and Tory rebels on board” rather than reaching out to opposition parties, according to a source.

May will table an amendable motion to the Commons on her next steps, to be accompanied by written and oral statements. MPs will then debate and vote on the plan on 29 January.

There were reports that the Prime Minister will try to use the vote to secure a mandate from the Commons to go back to Brussels to make changes to the deal.

A second “meaningful vote” would then take place after talks with the EU are completed, with officials currently expecting this to be mid-February.

However, reports suggest the conversation was light on detail, with another source claiming that “no actual solutions” to the backstop were proposed during the call.

NO-DEAL ‘DISASTER’

Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt says that a so called ‘no-deal’ would be a disaster and would “poison relations between Britain and the rest of Europe for decades.”

The Liberal MEP said, “No responsible politician should entertain it. I regret that Theresa May’s deal received the crushing defeat it did in Westminster this week. Given the red lines she set out, the deal on the table was the only possible one. Moreover, it provided for an orderly divorce. Financial obligations are squared away. The agreement on citizens caught in the crossfire means ‘the kids will be OK’.

“Moreover, the post-divorce relationship would be close and enduring, and the future deal could be negotiated quickly, making the backstop, designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement, an insurance policy that should never be required.”

Verhofstadt said that although many MPs have complained that the declaration on the future does not provide certainty, it “was never going to be possible to decide now in detail what the EU-UK relationship of 2030 would be,” he said.

“And for Remainers, there is no reason why the United Kingdom has to be out of the European Union for eternity. The deal on the table does not rule out an application to rejoin in the future. I have no doubt that one day a young politician will lead the UK back into the EU, where it belongs.”

“But for now, those most negatively affected by Brexit - our businesses, our young people, EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve an orderly withdrawal.”

“It is time for British leaders to lead,” he added.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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