Michael Gove tells EU there is a ‘serious risk’ Brexit deal not being met amid bitter row over citizens’ rights
The Cabinet Office minister hit out at the EU in a letter to European Commission president Maroš Šefcovic (PA)
Michael Gove has told Brussels there is a “serious risk” that the rights of UK nationals living in the bloc are not being protected, in an escalating row over the issue.
In a letter to European Commission president Maroš Šefčovič, the Cabinet Office minister - who is leading talks on the implementation of last year’s Brexit deal - lays out a string of concerns about the EU’s treatment of British nationals.
And he accuses the bloc of overseeing a “major imbalance” in the way the two sides are guaranteeing citizenship for each others’ residents post-divorce.
The letter comes just hours after the European Commission launched legal action against Britain for what it called a “failure to comply” with EU rules on the free movement of people.
In an ‘infringement notice’ filed by the Commission on Thursday, Britain is accused of “shortcomings” in its vow to protect European nationals living in the UK after Brexit - and given four months to comply before further action.
The Commission claims that current UK law “limits the scope” of EU citizens in the UK and curbs the ability of Europeans and their family members "to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights”.
But, hitting back, Mr Gove said the UK takes its obligations “very seriously”, with "a free, simple, online process" set up under the Home Office's EU Settlement Scheme.
While he acknowledges that “some EU citizens continue to have concerns” with the UK’s regime, he says he is “obliged to raise some concerns that UK nationals living in the EU have raised with me”.
'There is a major imbalance in the treatment of EU citizens by the UK and UK nationals in the EU' - Michael Gove
Raising “several areas of specific concern”, Mr Gove says information on how British nationals can apply to guarantee their citizenship “varies significantly in content, scale and accessibility” across the bloc.
“Many Member States have not established telephone lines or contacted UK nationals,” he says.
The Cabinet Office minister says that while the UK has given EU citizens “a total of 27 months to apply to the EU settlement scheme”, which closes on 30 June 2021, “several EU member states... have not announced when their schemes will open”.
“Others are planning short application windows that may not allow sufficient time for citizens to secure their rights, especially in the absence of a wider communications campaign,” he warns.
And Mr Gove says: “There is a major imbalance in the treatment of EU citizens by the UK and UK nationals in the EU. Further delays to the opening of application processes will compound risks for UK nationals in the EU.”
'NO CONCRETE INFORMATION'
The senior Conservative meanwhile takes aim at “complex” processes for applying for citizenship in some EU member states - warning that the timescale for decision-making “is unclear” for British nationals and “could take weeks or months” to process.
And he says member states “have not shared concrete information on what support they are making available to elderly, hard-to-reach or other vunerable citizens.”
“In many cases, there seems to be none,” Mr Gove adds.
Concluding his letter, the Cabinet Office minister says: “When viewed cumulatively these themes amount to a serious risk that the EU will not fulfil its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement by the time the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.”
Last year’s Withdrawal Agreement, which confirmed Britain’s formal exit from the EU, vowed that EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the bloc’s 27 member states would see their rights to live, study, work and travel protected on broadly the same terms as they are now.
But citizens may need to apply for a new residence status according go each country’s rules.
Earlier this week the EU Commission set out a ‘guidance note’ to member states setting out how they should implement the pledges made in the wide-ranging Brexit deal once the current transition period between the UK and Brussels expires at the end of this year.