OPINION: The UK blew its precious chance to guarantee our post-Brexit rights

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OPINION: The UK blew its precious chance to guarantee our post-Brexit rights
Photo: AFP

Theresa May’s letter to UK nationals living in Europe on the progress of Brexit negotiations is likely to prompt us to save up Brussels sprouts for a New Year’s pelting ceremony at Downing Street, writes Laura Shields from citizens' group British in Europe.


How should we, the 1.2 million British people living in continental Europe, reply to the shiny Christmas letter we received from Theresa May hoping to reassure us that we’ll be able to carry on life as normal after Brexit?
In the spirit of yuletide joy, I suppose we should be grateful that we have a letter at all…even if it comes a week after the one she sent to the 3.3 million Europeans living in London and is clearly a cut and pasted version of that.
But to avoid being churlish, let’s look at what comfort we can draw from her claim to have successfully brokered a reciprocal deal to secure our rights against of those of the 3 million Europeans living in the UK.
If you are a pensioner or someone who doesn’t need to travel or move around for work then perhaps you’ll feel like raising a glass of mulled wine to toast Mrs May’s success at securing our residence, healthcare and social security rights.

Abused, shunned but unfazed: What it's like being a Brexit-supporting Brit in FrancePhoto: AFP

Unfortunately, if you look at the fine print of December 8th's UK-EU joint technical report two issues are striking.
Firstly, our residence rights haven’t actually been guaranteed. Instead of retaining our automatic right to reside we, like our European friends in the UK, will instead end up with settled status which, depending on which EU 27 country you live in, many mean you need to go through a far from infallible application process replete with criminal background checks.
What a fun thing for an 85-year-old to be considering at this point in life.
Secondly, for the rest of us who need to travel or move for work (and remember four in five Brits in Europe are working age or younger) then May’s letter is likely to prompt us to save up all our unwanted soggy Brussels sprouts and plan an unseasonal trip to Downing Street for an impromptu but festive New Year’s pelting ceremony.
Why? Partly because some of our most important worries been deemed ‘out of scope’ for the first phase of the talks and have been bumped into Phase Two.
These include free movement, cross border service provision (e.g. if you have a catering company and live in France but work in other EU countries) and whether professional qualifications will still be recognised and economic rights apply across the EU 27.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki Photo: AFP
But mostly it’s about May’s spin that the EU didn’t want to discuss these issues in Phase 1 of the negotiations, when the European Commission negotiating directives from June clearly indicate otherwise.
There was a precious window in which to guarantee all our rights but the UK blew it because they were more interested in cutting those of EU nationals in the UK.
So, where does this leave us?
At British in Europe, we’re going to keep working with our sister group the 3 Million to ensure that citizens’ rights – or how Brexit will affect the (mostly disenfranchised) 4.6 million people directly affected by it – doesn’t get forgotten amid the fog of arguments about agriculture, financial services and airline slots.
Solidarity, which is clearly out of fashion at the moment, is unbelievably important right now.


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