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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Brexit deal does not deliver on the rights of Britons in Europe

While the UK Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that her final draft Brexit deal delivers on the referendum vote, groups representing the hundreds of thousands of Britons living across the EU say she had failed to deliver on their rights.

OPINION: Brexit deal does not deliver on the rights of Britons in Europe
Photo: AFP

Theresa May told parliament and members of her government on Wednesday that the Brexit deal agreed with Brussels was the best possible agreement for the UK to leave the EU and one that delivers on the result of the referendum in 2016.

Her deal was however attacked by both leavers and remainers and it remains highly doubtful that the agreement would win the necessary support in her cabinet and then the British parliament before it can be signed and sealed.

The agreement certainly hasn't won any support among campaign groups representing the 1.2 million British citizens living across the EU.

“Claims by the British government that 'they have delivered on citizens' rights' are entirely false,” Brian Robinson from the Brexpats Hear our Voice campaign group told The Local.
 
“The draft agreement only touches upon some treaty rights, and ignores the rest.”
 
The citizens' rights aspect of the bill was agreed back in March and the EU Commission confirmed to The Local on Wednesday that nothing has changed since then.
 
“The citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed in full back in March,” the spokesman said.
 
That means that while Brits will be allowed to stay, work and receive healthcare in the EU countries where they live they will be lose their current right to onward freedom of movement – in other words the right to move to another EU country.
 
 
'More holes than cheese': A recap of what Theresa May's Brexit deal means for Brits in Europe

That means that while Brits will be allowed to stay, work and receive healthcare in the EU countries where they live they will be lose their current right to onward freedom of movement – in other words the right to move to another EU country.

This is a big deal for many people whose livelihoods depend on being able to work in an EU country other than their country of residence.

“Onward freedom of movement has not yet been agreed, and many UK citizens in the EU rely on this for their livelihood,” said Robinson.
 
The umbrella group British in Europe have long called for onward freedom of movement to be guaranteed for Brits in the EU and while they have won support in the European Parliament, their requests have fallen on deaf ears among those negotiating the deal in Brussels and London.

British in Europe's chair Jane Golding told The Local: “If this draft agreement is agreed and becomes legally binding then it will only confirm the current rights we have in one country.

“But most of us moved on the assumption that those rights were valid across the EU27. Some of us have lived in several countries.”

Kalba Meadows from the Remain in France Together group said even if freedom of movement is guaranteed at a later date it would be too late for many Brits in Europe.

“If the crucial issue of free movement will be omitted it will become the subject of the 'future relationship' negotiations along with a million and one other issues – and too late to avoid serious disruption to the lives of many Brits in Europe,” she told The Local.

While freedom of movement was the main omission from the Brexit deal, campaigners were also unhappy about other rights that were not included in the March agreement.

They cover matters such as the right to provide cross-border services as self-employed people, recognition of some professional qualifications and the right to be joined by a future spouse or partner who you were not in a relationship with before the end of the transition period.

One of the major downsides of the deal is that EU countries may adopt a “constitutive system” meaning Brits would have to apply and prove their status in a country rather than just being granted it. The worry is that some expats who have been settled in a country for a years won't meet the criteria around minimum income.

But perhaps the main bone of contention campaigners have with the Brexit deal is that citizens rights have not been ring-fenced, meaning if Theresa May's much criticized bill fails to get through and the UK lurches towards a no-deal then suddenly Brits in Europe lose everything.

“We are stuck with the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” said British in Europe's Jane Golding.

Remain in France Together's Kalba Meadows stressed that there was a long way to go before Brits in Europe and EU citizens in the UK can rest easy.

“There's no doubt that for citizens' rights a deal is better than no deal, so there are five million people today with their hearts in their mouths. But even if the deal is accepted by the cabinet there's a long way to go … it still has to get though the UK and European parliaments, so nobody can start counting chickens just yet,” she said.

“So we wait and we hope.”

The hope of all these groups is that Theresa May relents and accepts the growing demand for a “people's vote” on the final deal that would include an option to remain in the EU.

Member comments

  1. For all its bluster, it’s the EU that is insisting on restricting Brit citizens rights in Europe. It is for them to allow onward movement. The equivalent restriction in the Uk would, for example, be if EU citizens in the UK were restricted to the town, city or country of their current residence within the UK.

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TRAVEL NEWS

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport. 

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