The PM’s post-Salzburg comment that, “Even in the event of no deal, your rights will be protected” have been interpreted by many commentators as a unilateral commitment to EU citizens’ rights. This is politically bold and morally admirable. The EU has issued no such assurances to British citizens living on the continent. This leaves campaigners for the rights of Britons living in Europe furious.
The Chair of British in Europe, Jane Golding, said in a letter to the PM on Friday 21st September, “Over the past 18 months the UK has negotiated away our rights, you and your secretaries of state have refused to meet us and now you completely ignore us at a critical time in the negotiations.”
If the EU is not using British citizen’s rights in the EU as a negotiating tool, perhaps its failure to clarify its intentions is an oversight.
The PM’s post-Salzburg speech makes it crystal clear to EU citizens that they will not be asked to leave the country. However, the government can do more to help EU citizens understand how to get their lives in order during the transition. The most recent policy paper with guidance on how to settle in the UK after Brexit was released on 26th June 2017. The paper can be read here.
“For EU citizens arriving after 11pm on 29th March 2019, the picture is also becoming clearer.”
In September 2018, the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released its final report on the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration, assessing the impact of freedom of movement and how it may affect the country in the future. It recommends that the UK move to a system, ‘…in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens.’
This means that British employers will be free to hire highly skilled workers from any country in the world and to treat the applications of each person equally, without prejudice. It means that the UK will offer the world a level playing field for employment. EU members will no longer enjoy preferential treatment. The recommendations also specify (Policy Recommendation 30) that, ‘Ending free movement would not mean that visa-free travel for EEA citizens would end, just that a visa would be needed to settle in the UK for any period of time and to work, as is the case for the citizens of some non-EEA countries at the moment.’
What this all boils down to is that Britain will continue to be close to Europe, will treat EU applications for residence fairly and equally and that EU citizens will still be able to travel to the UK to see friends, family and soak up the glorious British weather – without a visa. Whether or not the EU will reply in kind remains to be seen.
EU citizens living in Britain make a huge contribution to the national economy, they have built their lives here, committed themselves to society. With Brexit only six months away, they should rest assured that they will be as welcome in Britain as they have always been.