EU and UK citizens will continue to enjoy visa-free travel across the Channel after Brexit, at least for short-term visits, if the draft Political Declaration on future relations made public on Thursday (22 November) is adopted by both sides.
London had hinted that it could introduce visas for nationals of some EU countries after Brexit, should it choose to do so.
Britain’s former chief negotiator David Davis said in September 2017 in reply to a question from EURACTIV.com that the UK will be free to introduce visas for Poland, Romania and Bulgaria and may do so after its “orderly exit” from the EU.
Davis resigned as Brexit secretary in July and was replaced by Dominic Raab, who also stepped down this month.
The draft declaration may therefore be good news, if it is officially adopted together with the withdrawal agreement at an EU summit on Sunday.
The Leave campaign before the 2016 referendum was heavily built on messages that Brexit would stop Eastern Europeans from taking jobs from British citizens en masse.
The UK maintained a visa regime with Bulgaria and Romania until Westminster was legally required to lift it on 1 January 2007, the day the two countries officially joined the EU.
In the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement, the chapter on citizens’ rights does not cover visa travel. The issue was expected to be mentioned in the Political Declaration on future relations.
The draft text agreed on Thursday covers these issues in articles 50, 51 and 52. They read:
- Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements, as set out below;
- The mobility arrangements will be based on non-discrimination between the Union’s Member States and full reciprocity;
- In this context, the Parties aim to provide, through their domestic laws, for visa-free travel for short-term visits.
The “full reciprocity” mentioned in the draft political declaration refers to EU legislation on “visa reciprocity” that the Commission is actually unable to enforce, at least in the context of EU-US relations.
A regulation which entered into force on 20 December 2013 requires EU countries to “react in common” on visa matters, especially in cases where foreign countries “subject [EU] citizens to differing treatment”.
A glaring example is that of the citizens of Poland, Cyprus, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, who still need visas to visit the US, but no restrictive measures or tit-for-tat has been introduced against Washington.