Brexit weekly briefing: government fails to settle EU citizens’ jitters – The Guardian
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The big picture
Days after Theresa May unveiled the outline of a “fair and serious” offer on the rights of the 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK to heads of state and government at a summit in Brussels last Thursday, we got the detail.
The offer is based on a new “settled status” giving EU citizens with five years’ continuous residence in the UK essentially the same rights to education, work, pensions, NHS care and other public services as British citizens.
EU nationals who come to the UK before a yet-to-be-agreed cut-off date between 29 March 2017 (when article 50 was triggered) and Brexit day will be allowed to accumulate their five years’ residence, the prime minister said:
I know there has been some anxiety about what would happen to EU citizens at the point we leave the EU. I want to completely reassure people that under these plans no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU – we want you to stay.
The Guardian’s home affairs editor, Alan Travis, summarises the key points of the government’s 15-page policy document here. Several are likely to prove unacceptable to the EU, including:
- The UK insists that British courts must enforce the agreement in the UK, while the EU wants the European Court of Justice to be the arbiter.
- The UK’s preferred cut-off date is 29 March 2017, when article 50 was triggered, whereas the EU wants it to be the day that Britain formally leaves.
- There is no clarity on whether students allowed to finish courses will be able to stay on to work after their studies.
- EU nationals who have already attained permanent residency status will have to go through another registration process.
- EU nationals who marry after March 2019 will lose their EU right to bring family members to the UK unless they pass the minimum income test required of UK citizens who want to bring in non-EU family members.
At the Brussels summit, EU leaders criticised the outline of the UK offer as “not sufficient”, “vague” and “below expectations”. EU citizens in the UK and British nationals on the continent also condemned it as “pathetic”.
The response to the more detailed offer was no better. The EU’s goal was “the same level of protection as in EU law”, its chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, tweeted. “More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said some of the detail was “worrisome”, while Claude Moraes, the MEP who chairs parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, said:
Looking at the small print, the government’s offer is full of holes and threatens the rights of both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries. The government has proposed cuts in rights.
The view from Europe
The EU would not allow itself to be consumed by Brexit, Angela Merkel said at the summit, where issues discussed ranged from tackling the spread of terrorist propaganda on the internet to greater defence cooperation:
We need to take care of our own future as an EU27. This work should take precedence over Brexit negotiations.
The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, joined the chorus of leaders suggesting there was a chance the UK could stay in the union (although he was the only one to quote John Lennon in doing so):
We can hear different predictions, coming from different people, about the possible outcome of these negotiations: hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal … Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed. Who knows? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one.
In an interview with the Guardian and other European newspapers, Emmanuel Macron said France and the UK would maintain a strong and pragmatic relationship after Brexit, but added that during the exit process:
I do not want bilateral discussions, because the interests of the EU must be preserved in the short, medium and long term.”
Meanwhile, back in Westminster
The BBC’s political editor tweeted that there was finally “white smoke” from Downing Street on Monday. An awkward metaphor, perhaps, for a deal with the DUP, but the government finally has the party’s promise of its backing for the Queen’s speech, finance bills, Brexit legislation and security bills.
That means not that the party is in coalition, but that in return for £1bn in extra funding to Northern Ireland over two years, it will back the government in its most important legislation.
The DUP is in favour of leaving the EU, so the government should be able to squeak through planned bills on trade and immigration set out in the Queen’s speech last week. However, it has expressed concern over the Irish border situation, and when Brexit negotiations reach the nitty-gritty of any new customs arrangements, the deal could turn sour.
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, as well as MPs in the north of England, are already furious. Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones criticised the DUP for giving the Tories “the go-ahead to legislate how they please on Brexit”.
DUP sources have suggested that the poker game is far from over, however – this is just the first round. MPs are set to seek further concessions on air passenger duty and special corporation tax status within two years of propping up a minority Conservative government.
You should also know:
Read these …
Amid a glut of “one year on” articles, the Guardian’s editorial on Brexit – “Wrong then, wrong now, wrong in the future” – pulled few punches:
The events of the past 12 months have provided a vivid lesson in the folly of Brexit. For a year, Mrs May has expended most of her leadership of the Conservative party attempting to forge – the word is appropriate – a new deal with the EU that will be worse than the one we now have in every significant respect: economically, socially and culturally. On 8 June, the voters pulled the rug from under her feet. The upshot is a Brexit process that was wrong in the first place, has been badly mishandled, and now lacks credibility at home and in the EU. There is an overwhelming need, and perhaps a burgeoning consensus, for Britain to change its Brexit priorities.
In the Financial Times (£), Janan Ganesh is optimistic, arguing that the “Brexit atmospherics” have changed and now favour remainers, with pro-EU voters who had kept mum increasingly speaking of a deal to keep Britain open:
The political atmosphere is unmistakably more hospitable for Remainers than it was two weeks ago. Over the next two years, it is likelier to improve than to worsen. The trend of inflation suggests that voters will be nervous by then. The harshness of the exit terms will be a fact, not a prospect. Barring a restorative election win between now and then, the government will be less, not more popular. In these circumstances, a parliamentary vote to leave could be winnable and somehow unthinkable at the same time. The realistic prize is not an absolute decision to stay, but a British fudge. Sometimes immovable facts are not.
And back at the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland says Brexit can now be stopped. The certainties of the leave campaign’s case are collapsing, he argues, and we are “no longer shackled” to the referendum’s verdict:
Multiple options suddenly seem possible. One upside of the current volatility in world affairs is that nothing is fixed, nothing is preordained. We are not shackled to the verdict of 12 months ago, not if we want to break free of it. If time and circumstance lead us to conclude that we are at the precipice, staring into an abyss, we can always step back. We are not passive; our fate is not sealed. We can take back control.
Tweet of the week
Among a torrent of referendum anniversary tweets:
One year on from Brexit, we’ve learnt a lesson. Don’t listen to loud-mouthed Barbour-jacketed men in pubs with pints of beer in their hands.