Brexit Drama Shines a Light on Plight of Citizens’ Rights

UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at the Munich Security conference
UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at the Munich Security conference

It’s become known as the “B word,” something not to be mentioned in polite company. But, no matter how hard you try, there’s no getting away from Brexit, the saga of a divorce seemingly made in hell.

In the never-ending debate about the UK’s exit from the EU, there is one crucial issue that has stubbornly struggled to make it onto the headlines – citizens’ rights.

One reason for its relative low profile is the ongoing impasse over the Irish border issue and the desire to avoid a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

British Members of the European Parliament have called on EU leaders to urgently put in place a set of “continuity rights” for British nationals who may find themselves legally stranded on the continent in the event of no-deal Brexit. They say the contingency plans that are under way are not enough and will risk the rights of up to 1 million Britons settled in EU member states.

The MEPs want them to have rights including ongoing inflation-linked pensions and healthcare rights, and residency and employment rights, such as so-called frontier worker rights that would allow British nationals living in one country to take a job or offer a service in another member state after Brexit.

But consider this: the combined population of Northern Ireland and Ireland is just over 7 million.

The ability of businesses on both sides of the Irish border to continue to work and live without disruption post Brexit is, of course, of vital importance.

But it could easily be argued that the rights of the EU citizens living and working in the UK – and the British expats on mainland Europe – are of equal (if not greater) importance.

They number some 5 million (3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and more than 1.5 million Brits in Europe) and, with the prospect of a “no-deal Brexit,” looming ever larger by the day, their legal status and rights are increasingly becoming a cause for real concern.

Thus far, though, the “plight” facing this not insubstantial group of people seems to have been elbowed off the agenda, certainly on the UK side.

This is all the more surprising, given that the EU, from the outset of the Brexit negotiations, made the issue of citizens’ rights one of its “red lines” (along with the Irish border and the divorce bill – the bill the UK will have to pay for leaving the EU).

Fortunately, something is being done for some EU member states, including Luxembourg whose government recently sought to clarify the situation for UK citizens living in the country.

Read the full article on International Policy Digest here.



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