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Analysis

Theresa May isn’t as close as she says on citizens rights

by Luke Lythgoe | 19.10.2017

Theresa May has written an open letter to the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK claiming she is “in touching distance” of a deal securing their rights. It’s true that most of the points in her Brexit talks scorecard have been coloured green. But the final points will prove tricky.

Should the European Court of Justice be directly involved in enforcing EU citizens’ rights? This is a red line for May and her hardline Brexiters, although the flip-flop queen has shifted on the issue before. The EU also wants the European Commission alone to monitor the agreement, while the UK has proposed an “independent monitoring arrangement” in Britain.

Currently EU citizens can bring non-EU family members to the UK. British citizens don’t automatically have this right under UK immigration rules. Two principles clash here: protection of EU citizens’ current rights versus equal treatment compared to UK nationals. British officials think the EU is ready to give ground on this, according to the Telegraph. David Davis has also hinted at the possibility of a limited “window” of time in which EU citizens could bring family members to Britain after Brexit.

A similar dispute is happening over EU citizens’ rights to send benefits abroad. The government wants to clamp down on this and force EU citizens to follow the same rules as UK nationals.

Criminals, always a hot topic for the right-wing British press, will be another contentious issue. Currently EU citizens cannot be expelled unless they pose a risk to “public security, policy or health”. The government wants the expulsion of EU criminals after Brexit to be at the discretion of the UK immigration system. If it isn’t, how can they claim to have taken back control?

The UK is also making demands for its citizens abroad. The government wants recognition of their professional qualifications across all 27 remaining EU states, not just the country in which they are resident. It also wants guarantees that UK expats can vote in local elections, whereas the EU is happy to leave this to the discretion of the individual member states.

Finally, the UK has proposed a “more generous” offer guaranteeing EU citizens the right of return if they leave the UK, whereas EU rules allow member states to rescind residency rights after two years abroad. Davis is offering this in return for UK expats keeping residency rights across all 27 EU states, not just the one they’re living in on Brexit day. The EU has yet to respond.

Even if all these points are agreed, expats on either side of the Channel cannot feel secure until the full withdrawal agreement is reached. If we crash out with no deal, citizens’ rights will be back up in the air. May had the chance to avoid this by guaranteeing the rights unilaterally at the beginning of this process. If she wants to make good on her claim that she’s within “touching distance” of securing their rights, that’s still the best way of doing it.

This article was updated shortly after publication to include David Davis’ latest comments on family reunion rights.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Theresa May isn’t as close as she says on citizens rights”

  • Whilst the PM has given some comfort to certain expat worries, she remains silent on probably UK expats’ biggest concerns. There are almost half a million UK pensioners in the EU27, and they are still in the dark over their future healthcare. Some mistakingly think this is entirely a matter for their resident states, but there is a reciprocal agreement between the EU and the state where they made their national insurance contributions. Where the latter is the UK, the UK is responsible for their healthcare funding. This is a fundamental issue to alot of British pensioners who have not made contributions to their local state, do not qualify or do not want to take out foreign citizenship, or are not millionaires. It’s all right stating they have legal right to stay in the country, but if affordable healthcare is not available to them, its as good as being asked to leave. Whilst some may be able to take out private healthcare, this option will not be open to many. In Germany, private health premiums for over 65’s are usually €650-800 per month, going progressively upwards, and companies are not obliged to take anyone on.

    So despite the PM’s upbeat words on citizens rights, this is an area which is holding up an agreement. The EU have been quite clear that existing arrangements on citizens rights need to be respected and upheld.

  • “May had the chance to avoid this by guaranteeing the rights unilaterally at the beginning of this process.”

    Nope.

    This would have only solved the issue for EU nationals in the UK, with only the hope that the EU would reciprocate.

    So the problem wouldn’t have been avoided, at all.

    • actually, it would

      and that’s because the EU side never had the intention to deprive UK citizens living in the EU from civic rights in case of Brexit.
      using foreign citizens (or your own in case of Northern Ireland) as bargaining chips is solely a characteristic of Brexiteers (whether far-right or far-left).

      there is something simple to understand : from the EU side, once the UK has done its exit, they would very much prefer a status quo – as little changes as possible to how things are currently working … and that include citizen rights on either side of the seas.