Groups of British citizens living across EU countries presented this week an “alternative white paper” on what Brexit should deliver for people. They argued that simply confirming a right of residence for British living in EU countries and EU nationals in the UK is not enough.
The document is a response to the white paper published by the British government on Thursday, after receiving green light from the parliament on triggering article 50 and starting the procedure to leave the EU.
The official white paper sets out 12 principles for Brexit negotiations. These include “taking back control” of national laws, controlling immigration, developing new trade agreements with the EU and other countries, cooperating in the fight of crime and terrorism, supporting science and innovation and protecting workers’ rights. One of the principles is about securing rights for EU nationals living in the UK and British citizens in other EU countries.
The government says:
“Securing the status of, and providing certainty to, EU nationals already in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU is one of this Government’s early priorities for the forthcoming negotiations. To this end, we have engaged a range of stakeholders, including expatriate groups, to ensure we understand the priorities of UK nationals living in EU countries. This is part of our preparations for a smooth and orderly withdrawal and we will continue to work closely with a range of organisations and individuals to achieve this. For example, we recognise the priority placed on easy access to healthcare by UK nationals living in the EU. We are also engaging closely with EU Member States, businesses and other organisations to ensure that we have a thorough understanding of issues concerning the status of EU nationals in the UK.
The Government would have liked to resolve this issue ahead of the formal negotiations. And although many EU Member States favour such an agreement, this has not proven possible. The UK remains ready to give people the certainty they want and reach a reciprocal deal with our European partners at the earliest opportunity. It is the right and fair thing to do.”
The alternative white paper includes only one principle: no retrospective changes on individuals’ rights. Citizens groups wrote:
“UK citizens currently resident in the EU and EU citizens currently resident in the UK should be expressly treated as continuing to have the same rights as they had before Brexit. This is not confined to a right of continued residence but extends to all related rights such as the acquisition of citizenship, the right to continue to work or run a business, recognition of qualifications, right to study, right of equal treatment, right to move between and work freely across all EU countries without loss or change of any existing EU rights, the right to healthcare, pensions, social benefits, social assistance etc.”
They argue people moved to other EU countries “in good faith and with the legitimate expectation that their EU citizenship rights were irrevocable.” They also add that “the referendum gave no mandate to alter the rights of these people,” although their ability to continue a normal life in their adopted country is now put in question.
A House of Lords Committee report has recently recognised that EU citizenship rights “taken as a whole […] make it possible for an EU citizen to live, work, study and have a family in another EU Member State. Remove one, and the operation of others is affected.”
As examples, groups of British nationals say that the right of UK pensioner to live in Spain would be undermined if people were no longer entitled to health care under the Spanish system. People would also be unable to keep their work or do business in other EU countries if their qualifications were no longer recognized and family members may not be able to join their relatives if EU citizenship directives were no longer applied.
The “alternative white paper” was signed by Brits in Europe (a group based in Germany), the British Community Committee of France, Expat Citizen Rights in EU (France), Fair Deal for Expats (France), Remain in France Together, Brexpats Hear our Voice (Belgium), British in Italy, Bremain in Spain, EuroCitizens (Spain) and New Europeans.
The paper concludes that current rights should be fully safeguarded in the withdrawal agreement signed by all EU countries to give it the force of international law. But this issue should be solved early as people “should not have to wait until the end of the negotiations to find out whether they have a future in the EU states where they have decided to live.”
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