Brexit: May offering EU workers in UK ‘second-class citizenship’ – MEPs
Theresa May has been accused of offering EU workers in the UK “second-class citizenship” in a stark warning from the European parliament that it would reject her “damp squib” opening offer on the Brexit negotiations.
The prime minister, who will on Monday attempt to relaunch her struggling tenure in Downing Street, was told that the EU legislature would “reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens less favourably than they are at present”.
Writing in the Guardian, the parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt and eight other leading MEPs say the UK’s opening offer on citizens’ rights falls short of both the EU proposal and Vote Leave’s campaign pledges.
“The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not to reduce them,” they wrote. “We will never endorse the retroactive removal of acquired rights. The European parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are at present.”
Earlier this month, May offered those who arrive lawfully before Brexit the chance to build up the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens.
But her proposal falls far short of the EU’s demand for its citizens living in the UK to maintain all EU rights in perpetuity, and the UK is not prepared to concede to the EU’s demand to allow the European court of justice to be the guarantor of those rights.
In their joint intervention, the group of MEPs threatens to torpedo a Brexit deal if a better offer is not presented, which could be done if a simple majority in the European parliament votes against the final terms of an exit deal. The eight authors of the article includes leaders of all the parliament’s pro-EU political groups, accounting for 77% of MEPs.
The MEPs also make clear they will oppose any extension of the two-year negotiating period, which ends in March 2019. To further challenge the British government’s position in negotiations, the article’s main principles will be turned into a parliamentary resolution that MEPs will vote on in September.
The parliament’s stinging rejection of the British offer follows a tough response from the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
According to a preliminary analysis shared with EU member states, he sees “many issues still to be clarified” and is concerned that 3.5 million EU nationals in the UK would be left with “no lifelong protection against future changes of UK law”. Barnier believes the British offer cannot be seen as reciprocal because EU nationals in the UK would be subject to different laws and courts than the 1.2 million Britons on the continent.
The MEPs reinforce the claim, highlighting that EU citizens would lose their right to vote in local elections, while future family members would be subject to a minimum income test to move to the UK, as well as the lack of clarity over the status of “post-Brexit babies”.
“The British proposal carries a real risk of creating a second class of citizenship,” they said. “It is even in contradiction with the Vote Leave manifesto, which promised it would treat EU citizens ‘no less favourably than at present’.”
During the referendum campaign, Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of Vote Leave and now foreign secretary, said categorically that EU citizens already in the UK would be allowed to stay. Michael Gove, another key figure in Vote Leave and now environment secretary, was of the same view, saying: “EU citizens already lawfully resident in the United Kingdom must retain their right of residence.”
The MEPs also accused the British of vying to be “the new champion of red tape”, as each family member, including children, would have to make a separate application for settled status.
Both the British and the EU have stressed that settling citizens’ rights is one of their top priorities for the Brexit negotiations, but the task is fraught with complexity.
But in the one-year-long buildup to the start of negotiations, EU officials expressed frustration the British side did not grasp the technical challenge.
The EU will insist on detailed guarantees on the rights of EU citizens in the UK to meet their aim of allowing people to live as if Brexit had never happened.
One of the biggest issues is the European court of justice. The EU side wants to ensure the Luxembourg court has a central role in resolving disputes over citizens’ rights, while May has made ending ECJ jurisdiction a strong red line.
The MEPs argue that British courts will not be enough, because they “apply the laws adopted by British politicians, who are currently unable to give sufficient guarantees for the years to come, let alone for a lifetime”.