Brexit Secretary urges EU to ring-fence citizens’ rights even under no-deal
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has urged Michel Barnier to work together to ring-fence citizens’ rights even if there is a no-deal Brexit.
In a letter to the EU’s chief negotiator he says the UK is committed to passing a Withdrawal Agreement, but that both sides should make plans for “all scenarios”.
It is the second time he has written to his counterpart on this subject, after the Government agreed to adopt an amendment by Tory MP Alberto Costa to push for a guarantee on rights for UK citizens’ living in the EU and vice versa, whatever the outcome of the negotiations.
But Mr Barnier had previously dismissed the idea in his reply to the first letter, saying efforts should only be put into ratifying the deal, adding: “We should not be distracted from this essential objective.”
Rejecting the idea just to focus on citizens’ rights, he said it would be difficult to “carve out” the protections for expats without “the risk of unequal treatment of certain categories of citizen”.
And Mr Barclay has also come under fire from Mr Costa, whose parents are Italian citizens but have lived in the UK for 50 years, who said the Cabinet minister needed to do more than simply write two letters to Brussels.
He tabled an Urgent Question in the Commons today, and said: “It is inconceivable that a British Government—let alone a Conservative Government—could allow the rights of British nationals working, living or studying in the EU to vaporise overnight on 31 October.
“However, we find ourselves in a deeply unpalatable position in which our fellow citizens, and EU nationals resident in this country, have had their rights wrongly placed on the negotiating table.”
He called on the Government to set up a task force and “meet urgently with Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and other stakeholders in the EU to convey the unanimous will of this House”.
Mr Barclay's letter to Mr Barnier said they have both met with campaign groups British in Europe and the3Million, adding: “I am sure you agree that they make a persuasive case on the need to provide certainty to citizens in all scenarios.”
He added: “They are clear that this offers the greatest protection to UK national in the EU and to EU citizens in the UK, particularly in ay areas such as healthcare and pensions.”
He praised the EU for pushing the remaining 27 countries to outline protections for UK citizens in a no-deal situation, but said “there remain gaps in a number of areas and in a number of member states”.
He concluded: “I agree that 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.
“However, I suggest that together our officials continue to work on how we best protect citizens’ rights in all scenarios.”
Speaking in the Commons the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Brexit, Tom Brake, hit out at the Tory leadership hopefuls who will not rule out leaving without a deal.
He said: “I find it hard to contain my anger at the charlatans and snake oil salesmen who will again tonight, on television, be claiming that no deal presents no difficulties; it might present no difficulties for them.”
A spokesman for the3Million told PoliticsHome: The letter shows that the UK Government has understood the need to safeguard our citizens' rights in case of no deal under the Article 50 procedure.
“The EU must act now, so we can get on with our lives and stop being the bargaining chips of the Brexit negotiations.”