European deputies say they are seeking fresh assurances that citizens' rights will be “fully respected” when the UK leaves the EU on 31 January.
In a resolution overwhelmingly approved in a vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday, deputies said several issues still needed resolving about the status of the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK and the implementation of their rights.
Much of the criticism revolved around the UK’s Settlement Scheme, which requires EU citizens to apply in order to stay in the UK, but some noted that little mention was made in the parliamentary text of the rights of the 1.5 million Britons who live and work in Europe, some of whom say they have been “forgotten” in the Brexit saga.
Under the UK Withdrawal Agreement, both the UK and the EU agreed to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU.
In Parliament, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Guy Verhofstadt, who chairs the assembly’s Brexit Steering Group, have made citizens’ rights a key priority in the upcoming trade talks between the two sides.
Pedro Silva Pereira, S&D spokesperson on Brexit, is among several MEPs now calling for fresh assurances about the legal status of citizens when the UK quits the EU this month.
On Thursday, the Portuguese MEP said, “The UK will leave the EU in a matter of weeks and yet there is still uncertainty for many EU citizens. People deserve clear and concrete reassurances that their rights will be protected. This resolution shows that we stand up for citizens' rights.”
"We acknowledge the efforts made, but the UK government can and should do more to ensure full protection of citizens’ rights" MEP Pedro Silva Pereira (PT, S&D)
“We acknowledge the efforts made, but the UK government can and should do more to ensure full protection of citizens’ rights. The truth is that the Settlement Scheme could be more user-friendly and would benefit from additional assistance being provided to older and more vulnerable citizens, in particular those with difficulty in using digital tools.”
“On the other hand, as many applicants are only receiving the so-called ‘pre-settled status’, it would be better if this procedure was declaratory in nature, with a proper review of decisions by a truly independent authority. A physical document proving the right to reside in the UK would also be an important step in giving citizens a stronger sense of legal certainty.”
He added, “We now hope to get a positive response from the UK government regarding these serious concerns on citizen's rights. When it comes to the future relationship between the EU and the UK, we will continue to make sure that commitments on citizens' rights are fully implemented at every step of the way.”
Further concern was echoed by Scottish MEP Christian Allard who slammed the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme, describing it as “not fit for purpose” and calling for it to be scrapped.
"Myself and countless others are being required to apply for settled status in order to live in the country we have chosen to call home. This is a travesty" MEP Christian Allard (UK, RE)
He said, “I am one of the EU citizens who has been asked to apply for settled status. I have lived in Scotland for over 35 years. I came because of freedom of movement.”
“Myself and countless others are being required to apply for settled status in order to live in the country we have chosen to call home. This is a travesty.”
“The application process must be scrapped, and our rights must be automatically protected - as was promised by the then leader of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson.”
The transition period for the UK’s departure is due to end in December.