Expats plight high on the agenda as Brexit talks kick in

Published:  20 Jun at 6 PM
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EU expats in the UK and British expats living in EU member states are seeing their plight set at the top of the Brexit agenda.

Britain’s EU divorce negotiations began Monday in Brussels, with both sides stating a reciprocal rights deal should be finalised as soon as is practicable. According to the UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union, securing the rights of both groups of expats is the country’s first aim. A spokesperson for the department told the media that ending the anxiety of four million citizens has always been a government priority.

In spite of many declarations of good intent issued in the past, Theresa May has to date refused to guarantee residency rights for EU nationals living in the UK until EU negotiators agree the same rights for UK citizens living in Europe. Her stubbornness on the issue has led a majority of UK expats to believe they are being used as bargaining chips in the negotiations. Some 900,000 Briton are believed to be living in EU member states, with Spain holding the most at just under 309,000. Negotiators are understood to have told the coalition group British in Europe expats’ current rights as citizens should not be changed.

However, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is reported to have said any deal over the rights of citizens will be rendered null and void should an overall Brexit deal not be achieved. His comments have done nothing to lessen the fear and uncertainty felt on both sides of the expat divide. The chairperson of British in Europe, Jane Golding, told reporters there is still not enough concrete information forthcoming from Theresa May and the British government, adding the EU offer contains full details including its favourable position on expat rights. Everything, she said, now depends on the response from the UK‘s negotiators.

Earlier this month, May suggested she would agree to a ‘very generous offer’ on rights for the three million EU nationals living in the UK. The leader of campaign group Bremain in Spain said its members are impatient to be told full details of the government’s generosity, but doubted that it would come anywhere near that proposed by the EU. The group’s discussions with EU ministers have been totally transparent, with the campaign groups stating it’s time their own government behaved in the same manner towards British expats.
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