Italian MEP Barbara Spinelli says she is pessimistic about the prospects of the EU and UK reaching a Brexit agreement.
The GUE/NGL group deputy told a hearing in Parliament on Thursday that it was particularly regrettable the UK had rejected EU demands relating to the protection of citizens’ rights post Brexit.
She said, “It is also deplorable that the issue of citizens’ rights was not included in the guidelines agreed by both the EU and UK before Christmas.
“There are a lot of unsolved and outstanding issues including the uncertainty facing lots of people, and it is for this reason that I am, currently, pessimistic about the way the talks are going and the prospects for a successful outcome.”
Her comments come despite the hearing being told that while key issues still need to be solved, the EU and the UK have made significant progress to guarantee that citizens affected by Brexit will maintain their rights.
In the hearing, organised by the civil liberties, employment and petitions committees, several MEPs underlined that they will continue fighting to ensure that both EU nationals living in the UK and British citizens in other member states will enjoy their full set of rights throughout their lifetime.
Among the elements still pending, they pointed to the status of future partners, the situation during the transitional period, additional clarity on the administrative procedure to follow to gain residence, the implementation of the right to free movement after Brexit is completed and fully exercising political rights (such as to voting and to be elected for office).
Representatives of the citizens’ organisations The 3 million, British in Europe and New Europeans, as well as academics and other experts, presented their views to MEPs.
Roger Casale, founder of New Europeans, said that while European Council President Donald Tusk was “not to blame for Britain’s decision to leave the EU”, he was responsible for what happens next.
His message to the European Commission was, “Don’t tell us something can’t be done because it is not in your negotiating mandate or you do not have the legal base. Go back to the Council and ask for a new mandate. Go back to your officials and ask them to come up with more imaginative solutions.”
Casale, a former member of the UK Parliament, said, “The point of the European Union is not to put barriers in the way of extending rights and citizenship but actually to find solutions and to find ways of resolving problems and overcoming those barriers and showing the imagination and the leadership. Why? Because it is the European Union is the greatest human rights organisation in the world. Isn't it? Well this is a test of its commitment to those values.”
He added, “Securing the rights of Britons in Europe is a key test for the EU which it cannot afford to fail. Not if the EU wants to continue to speak in the future about a Europe of the Citizens, a Europe that is a safe space for the citizen, a Europe that respects human rights.”
He was scathing of the UK government, telling the hearing, “Allow me to let you into a secret. The UK government cares as little for its own citizens in the EU as it does about EU27 citizens in the UK.”
He told UK Prime Minister Theresa May, “It is time to stop negotiating. Stop negotiating and start legislating. Legislate now for immediate, comprehensive, unilateral guarantees for all EU27 citizens in the UK.”
Swedish S&D group MEP Marita Ulvskog, a Vice-Chair of the employment and social affairs committee, reiterated the pledge to “defend the rights of millions of people” after Brexit.
She said, “These talks are very complicated, but it is important that the voice of ordinary people, not just politicians and policymakers, is heard throughout the entire process.”
Her group colleague Claude Moraes, Chair of the civil liberties committee, told the meeting that “nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed.”
Moraes said, “We are absolutely clear that the demands laid out by Parliament must be met before we give approval to the final agreement.”
Ahead of the hearing, Guy Verhofstadt, Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator, who was unable to attend due to sickness, said, “Prime Minister May’s comments appear to be part of a domestic negotiation within the UK cabinet, and threaten to increase existing uncertainties for citizens, which is regrettable.
“May’s proposal to make a distinction between those arriving before March 2019 and during the transition could lead to discrimination against EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. EU citizens contribute to Britain; what kind of message does this send to them?”
“The maintenance of EU citizens’ rights during the transition is not negotiable. We will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens. For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis, with no exceptions.”