EU citizens' rights row threatens Brexit
MEPs warn of veto unless PM May's offer is further improved
14 July, 2017
A group of MEPs last Monday threatened to veto Brexit agreement unless the UK improves its offer to protect EU citizens, news wires reported. PM Theresa May's offer to protect EU citizens resident in Britain “would cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty over the lives of millions of Europeans,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator for Brexit, and eight other cross-party lawmakers wrote in The Guardian.
British PM offered to protect the “settled status” of EU citizens, vowing that no families would be separated. She promised the families of EU citizens rights broadly in line with those of non-EU family members of British citizens, including settled status after five years.
The lawmakers said there was a striking gap between May's offer and a proposal by the EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. “Barnier wants British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection they currently enjoy under European law,” they wrote. But Britain's offer could leave EU citizens in Britain with “fewer rights than British citizens are offered throughout the EU.”
“Europeans will not only lose their right to vote in local elections, but family members will be subject to minimum income requirements, and it is unclear what the status of ‘post-Brexit‘ babies would be,” MEPs said. “This carries a real risk of creating second-class citizenship,” they added warning that the European Parliament has the right to “reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are being treated at present.”
According to Barnier, there were many differences with Britain on citizens' rights, including on the role of the EU court that needed to be sorted out before talks can start on a trade deal. “We want EU citizens in Britain to have the same rights as British citizens who live in the EU,” he told a news conference in Brussels, noting that the British position at the moment does not guarantee these equal rights. Barnier added that the European Court of Justice should be the “ultimate guarantor” of these rights, and if Britain opposed this “it would create uncertainty.” Britain wants to regulate citizens' rights under British law.
Asked about UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's comment that the EU could “go whistle” over the demand, Barnier replied: “I'm not hearing any whistling. Just the clock ticking.” He denied that the EU was holding the UK government to ransom, and said it was simply a matter of trust. “It is not an exit bill, it is not a ransom - we won't ask for anything else than what the UK has committed to as a member,” he said.