THE BLOG

Why Is Anyone With A Brain Surprised That Citizens' Rights Are Still A Brexit Stumbling Block?

We’ve only got a small window in which to remind our politicians that we’re not going to go gently into the night

07/12/2017 16:44 GMT
Yves Herman / Reuters

Bored of the Brexit negotations?

Just want those pesky talks over so that you can get on with your life?

Then imagine being one of the 1.2million British people living in Europe, or one of the 3.3million EU citizens in the UK and watching a load of men and women in grey suits haggle over whether or not you get to carry on living and working the way you did before Brexit.

As one of the 4.5million whose life is actually being expropriated, I can assure you that my main emotional states do include boredom but also schadenfreude (ooooh look at me going native with my fancy foreign words) at the media and political commentariat’s apparent surprise that citizens’ rights are still a stumbling block to ‘sufficient progress’, albeit not as big a one as Northern Ireland.

It’s not just the future role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that’s holding things up, although this is clearly the most froth-inducing issue for the arch Brexiteers. And, unpopular as its stance may be, the European Parliament, (which has a veto over the final exit deal) is right to hang tough on the ECJ and would be wise to reject any fudges on mooted ombudsmen or sunset clauses that limit protections for EU citizens living in the UK.

However, the role of the ECJ is ultimately a procedural one designed to ensure that whatever agreement is agreed on citizens’ rights is applied properly after Brexit day both in the UK and the EU 27. But the row surrounding it overshadows other unresolved issues that will affect real people’s everyday lives from the actual day the UK leaves the EU.

And they are not insignificant.

Both Theresa May and Michel Barnier stated that they want British people in Europe and EU citizens in the UK to be able to carry on living our lives as we had prior to Brexit. However, what’s currently on the table won’t allow us to do this.

Yes, we will be allowed to stay and work in the countries we currently live in. But we will also be effectively landlocked in them due to a huge mobility shaped hole in the citizens’ rights package that’s currently being discussed.

EU citizens in the UK still don’t know whether or not they can bring in family members, or return to the UK after an extended period abroad to work or care for family. The same applies to Brits who want to return from Europe in the future - the UK hasn’t confirmed what the rules will be for bringing in family members for us either.

Furthermore, for Brits living in Europe, continuing free movement is currently off the table. And with roughly four in five 5 Brits on the continent working age or younger, the ability to move freely between countries is a necessity not a nice to have for many. Working people including caterers, actors, musicians, lorry drivers, and IT consultants rely on it to support themselves and their families.

Take Sarah, who has been living in France for 18 years and runs a catering business with her husband. In winter they work from home catering for tourists skiing in the area. For the rest of the year they work throughout Europe including in Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Without free movement they would not be able to do this, losing half their annual income.

Sarah’s story is the tip of the iceberg and part of the reason why we are so heartened to see European MEPs such as Sophie in’t Veld understanding what’s at stake and continuing to fight our corner along with our British ones Seb Dance, Catherine Bearder and Jean Lambert. It’s also the reason we’ve been pushing so hard to get a good agreement on citizens’ rights ringfenced so people can get on with their lives without their issues being bumped into Phase Two of the talks, where they will inevitably be buried underneath an avalanche of arguments about airline slots and fishing quotas.

Sticking together really matters, which is why it’s so important that citizens’ rights groups such as British in Europe and the3million work closely. But solidarity has to go beyond the campaign groups. If you are an anxious Brit in Europe, an EU national in the UK or simply concerned about what will happen to friends or family then write, re-write or tweet to your MEPs and MPs. We know it makes a difference but we’ve only got a small window in which to remind our politicians that we’re not going to go gently into the night over the loss of our citizens’ rights.

The tablet is mightier than the sword.

So, it’s time to get out there… and write for your rights.