EU negotiator blames Britain for expats predicament

Published:  8 May at 6 PM
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The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator is blaming Britain’s hardline stance for the uncertainty surrounding the rights of millions of UK and EU expats.

Former French minister Michel Barnier put the blame for the continued uncertainty facing both EU and UK expats squarely on the shoulders of the British government, adding that Brussels will demand lifetime citizens’ rights guarantees as a condition of the UK divorce settlement. Speaking at a conference in Florence, Barnier stated the true cause of uncertainty is the Brexit result itself, disassociating EU member states from any responsibility. The only way to resolve the issue, he said, is through a negotiated Article 50 agreement.

He added the complexity of any deal involving residency, pension rights and social security rights, health, education and other issues involving the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million UK expats in the EU would have to be prioritised. The existing rights of EU citizens and their families, he continued, must be maintained and must include expats’ non-EU citizen relatives wherever they live. According to Barnier, the required guarantees must be made in writing in an agreement subject to the EU Court of Justice’s jurisdiction.

Citizens’ rights, he said, were straightforward as regards an in principle agreement, but difficult to put into legally precise text form. No discussion will be had over the future relationship between the EU and UK until all 27 member states are convinced their citizens will be treated humanely and properly.

Barnier used the example of a Polish car worker in the UK to show the complexity of the issues faced. Should the worker lose his job in Britain due to Brexit, should he still be allowed to receive UK unemployment benefit as he would at present once he’d returned to Poland to find another job. Another example cited was that of a self-employed British photographer living and working in Spain. If this person becomes bankrupt, will she still have healthcare rights in Spain and will she be entitled to social security benefits should she return to the UK.
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