More than 4.2 million expats across Europe are in limbo over their future status in the EU and the UK as Brexit talks stalled yesterday.
A row over the EU’s offer to British expats, that the UK feels falls short of its plan for Europeans, mean that Brexit talks appear to have hit an early impasse, with future healthcare and freedom of movement among the main areas of concerns that have emerged, following three and a half days talks between negotiators.
As a result, the future status of the 1.2m Brits in the EU and the 3m Europeans living in the UK now appears to be less clear than it was when talks started, with no further talks scheduled until August and September.
According to various reports, from the latest round of talks between the UK and EU representatives in Brussels yesterday, the UK has urged the EU to show “respect” to expats by addressing “significant gaps” in their offer on their citizenship rights, as it emerged that Britons in the European Union could lose their automatic ability to move to another country in the bloc after Brexit.
As things stand, unless free movement across the UK is granted and rubber stamped by the European Court of Justice, then the EU is also threatening to cut UK expats rights to healthcare and their ability to move within the Eurozone.
A British source close to the negotiations, told The Independent that the Brussels offer fell short of what the Government is offering EU nationals.
It also emerged that Brussels has threatened to, for example, make it harder for a UK citizen that is, for example, currently living in Germany from relocating to France or Italy, once Britain leaves the EU.
The EU said its stance would not change unless Britain agreed to allow its nationals living in Britain to move to another EU country and then return to the UK.
UK government stance
Under the Government’s plans, the 3m EU citizens in the UK will be stripped of their right to return if they leave “for more than two years, unless they have strong ties here”.
EU officials said they would be pushing to resolve the fresh disagreement when the negotiations resume in August and then September.
“We would start from the assumption that, in order to maintain the right of EU citizens to move around the EU27, this would require the UK to reciprocate by allowing EU citizens to continue to move around freely,” one EU official told reporters at the press conference.
UK negotiators were said to be surprised at the EU position on expats, who would not keep their automatic right under free movement rules to live in other countries in the bloc and would instead only be guaranteed the right to remain in the nation in which they are currently settled.
British expats will also lose existing rights to vote and stand in local elections under Brussels’ proposals, while posted workers who are sent abroad from the UK to carry out a job on a temporary basis are not included in the EU’s offer.
By contrast, British officials highlighted offers to protect EU nationals’ voting rights, offer those with strong ties to the UK a chance for longer breaks in residency, and remove comprehensive sickness insurance requirements.
Other points of disagreement emerged after the talks ended, The Independent said, including:
* Brussels seeking to block the Government from carrying out criminal record checks on EU nationals who apply to remain in Britain after Brexit.
* An apparent rejection of Britain’s hope for holidaymakers to continue using the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), to claim free or subsidised treatment.
The clashes over future citizens’ rights have come despite both sides insisting they want removing the uncertainty facing millions of people to be a priority.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has previously insisted that existing rights must not be watered down “in any way”.
A one of the this week’s press conferences, Barnier criticised the UK for a lack of clarity and warned there was still a “fundamental divergence” between the two parties.
The EU would not give way on its insistence that the rights of citizens must be guaranteed by the European Court of Justice, he said – a red line for the UK.
“Citizens must be able to identify the legal certainty that they need for their day-to-day lives,” Mr Barnier told the press conference.
The talks would not move onto future trade – Britain’s priority – until the UK had provided the “clarification needed”, he said.
The disagreement over expats rights could be the huge stumbling block to the whole Brexit process, as the EU is demanding a precise guarantee over rights, without actually setting out a precise financial figure for the so-called “divorce bill”.
On the EHIC, it appears the UK may even be forced to set up its own healthcare insurance scheme, rather than being allowed to piggy-back on the existing scheme, The Independent report said.