The rights of EU citizens after Brexit are important but the Commission’s opening demands are unacceptably high

By Alp Mehmet
Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Times, 15 June, 2017 

The rights of EU citizens after Brexit are important but the European Commission’s opening demands are unacceptably high.

When negotiations begin, at the top of the agenda will be a need to resolve the post-Brexit rights of around 3.2 million EU nationals in the UK and the million or so British citizens in the EU.

The rumours are that before the election, the prime minister asked civil servants to prepare a ‘big, generous offer’ on EU citizens’ rights.

We know that both sides broadly agree that British citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK should keep their rights to residence after Brexit. Coming to an agreement, however, will not be a matter of simply guaranteeing those rights.

The EU has already placed its cards on the table with the Commission Negotiating Directive.

In this, four demands jump out:

  • That the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should have continuing jurisdiction over the rights of EU citizens and their families, along with a supervisory role for the commission, even after our departure.
  • That any EU citizen who has lived in the UK in the past should also be guaranteed rights of residence in the UK. In other words, any EU national would be covered by the agreement regardless of whether or not they remain residents in the UK. Based on an estimate of the number of national insurance number registrations by EU nationals since 2001, we could be talking about at least six million people, almost double the 3.2 million EU nationals who currently live in the UK.
  • That the cut-off point after which EU citizens cannot have their rights of residence guaranteed should be the date of the UK’s departure from the EU – that is March 2019. This would be a dangerous concession as it would almost certainly lead to a last-minute rush. The House of Commons home affairs select committee noted that past experience demonstrated a risk of a spike in immigration prior to the rules coming into force. EU citizens should of course also be required to provide reasonable evidence of their claims.
  • That the commission wants EU citizens to continue to be able to bring family members to the UK without having to meet the income requirements that currently apply to British citizens. This would give EU citizens in the UK after Brexit more extensive rights than British citizens and would be patently wrong. Removing the minimum income spousal visa threshold of £18,600 would effectively provide an open border for any future spouse of an EU citizen who had acquired residence here as well as their future children.

Perhaps this list is no more than an opening gambit before the Brexit negotiations begin.

If so, the EU must be left in no doubt that it is unacceptable. It cannot be right to concede that EU citizens will have more extensive rights than British citizens and that the arrangement should be supervised by the ECJ long into the future.

I have no problem with a bold and generous offer but it cannot be one which includes provisions that would be unacceptable to the vast majority of people in this country.

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