27/03/2017 07:47 BST | Updated 28/03/2018 06:12 BST

The Good News About UK Expats' Rights In The EU Ignored

On 20 March 2017 Theresa May exultantly announced that she was about to trigger Article 50. A top priority is supposedly to negotiate the rights of UK expatriates in the remaining 27 EU member states - using the 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK as "bargaining chips". In fact, however, UK expats' post-Brexit rights are protected by EU law!

The "Bargaining Chip" Myth

I pointed this out in my open letter to Theresa May published as a blog here on 3 March 2017. I was surprised that nobody in the UK besides myself was aware that the "bargaining chip" argument for denying EU citizens' rights was invalid. Theresa May completely ignored my revelation of this uncomfortable fact. And Brexit Secretary David Davis has still not replied to a personal email alerting him to the invalidity of the "bargaining chip" argument.

Commons Brexit Committee

Among the members of the Commons Brexit committee there was an initial flurry of interest in my argument, of which they had been unaware. I received some pertinent questions for clarification, but when I offered to answer these queries by giving evidence before their committee they suddenly went very quiet.

Clarification and Explanation

So let me explain the true situation now. EU Directive 2003/109/EC gives the right of permanent residence to most non-EU citizens who have lived in the EU for more than five years. Most UK expats of more than five years' standing already have that right as EU citizens - under Directive 2004/38/EC. So, when they cease to be EU citizens after Brexit, they should be entitled to the same rights as long-term non-EU residents. It will only be a matter of changing the label under which they enjoy those same rights. It is inconceivable that UK expatriates will not be allowed to carry over rights acquired as EU citizens to a situation where they are non-EU citizens. As no other EU member state (except Greenland, which is not comparable) has seceded before, the situation of an EU citizen ceasing to be an EU citizen is unprecedented. If need be, this matter may have to be clarified by the European Court of Justice. But the rights of UK expatriates is an EU-wide question - not a matter for negotiation with each of the 27 remaining EU member states individually, as the UK Government evidently believes.

88 Non-EU Countries

In addition, nationals of 88 non-EU countries (including Russia) working in the EU are accorded the same rights as EU citizens by agreements between these countries and the EU. Why can't Britain become the 89th such country? As far as I am aware, this possibility has never been raised by anyone in the UK. And, once again, these are agreements with the EU as a whole, not with individual EU member-states.