The UK’s Brexit minister has urged the EU’s Michel Barnier to have a reciprocal agreement guaranteeing citizens’ rights in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
In an exchange of correspondence between the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, published on Tuesday (18 June), Barclay appealed for a rethink and for “sustained” efforts to reach a compromise to safeguard the future of the
“The UK government remains fully committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK in any scenario,” stated Barclay.
In February, UK MPs voted to guarantee the rights of EU nationals after 29 March, when the UK was originally due to leave the EU, unanimously supporting an amendment by former ministerial aide Alberto Costa.
That promise was not matched by the EU executive but was not tested because Theresa May obtained an extension to October 31.
In his original reply to a letter from Barclay on the issue in March, which was also published, Barnier said that it was “far from straightforward” how a carve-out on citizens’ rights could be made without leading to “unequal treatment for certain categories of citizen”.
Barnier added that any deal would need to maintain the “special role” of the European Court of Justice.
In the absence of an EU-UK deal, the Commission has urged member states to negotiate bilateral deals on citizens’ rights with London.
“There remain gaps in a number of areas and in a number of member states,” complained Barclay, who said that he had held meetings with representatives from the British in Europe and 3 million pressure group, which represents EU nationals living in the UK.
“Our joint efforts should remain focused on making sure that we reach an agreement in order to secure an orderly departure for both the UK and the EU,” the letter added.
”However, I suggest that together our officials continue to work on how we best protect citizens’ rights in all scenarios.”
Costa, who brought the matter up with the government again on Tuesday, complained that “the government have not been trying enough to secure EU citizens’ rights.”
“The UK government needs to do a lot lot more. Simply to write a letter to Barnier and expect a positive response is simply not good enough,” said Costa.
The prospects of a No Deal Brexit have significantly increased in recent weeks following the resignation of Theresa May as Prime Minister, and the apparent death of the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on future relations which she negotiated with EU leaders.
Boris Johnson, who on Tuesday comfortably topped the second ballot of Conservative MPs in the leadership contest to succeed May, has promised to re-open talks with the EU and stated that the UK must be prepared to walk out of the EU without a deal.
Speaking at a press conference following a meeting with Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s prime minister on Tuesday, Barclay added that an EU-wide approach to guaranteeing citizens rights “made sense”.
The European Commission has repeatedly stated that it will not carve out citizens’ rights from the overall Withdrawal Agreement, though it has made its own contingency plans to safeguard citizens’ rights in the event of a No Deal.
In January, the Commission released contingency plans to guarantee that students currently participating in the Erasmus programme on both sides of the channel will be able to complete their studies, alongside safeguards for social security rights for EU citizens living in the UK.