UK MEPs call on EU to ring-fence citizens' rights post-Brexit

Pedro Gonçalves
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UK MEPs call on EU to ring-fence citizens' rights post-Brexit

British MEPs from across the political divide have called on the EU to "ring-fence" citizens' rights after the UK leaves the EU as the country is yet to agree on a Brexit exit strategy.

Britain's 25 EU MPs have sent a letter to all EU ministers setting out their concerns that both EU citizens in the UK and Britons living in EU member states are at risk from changes to the guarantees of rights now being given by a number of EU countries as well as the UK.

The authors of the letter say the present guarantees are no more than piecemeal legislation able to be reversed or adjusted at any time in the future. 

"It is unacceptable that our EU citizens have been subject to such uncertainty so long and where we fully recognise the failure is on the UK side, we now need the European Union to live up to its promises given that it has the capacity to do so."

"It is unacceptable that our EU citizens have been subject to such uncertainty so long and where we fully recognise the failure is on the UK side, we now need the European Union to live up to its promises given that it has the capacity to do so."

The letter, dated 17 January, is signed by, among others, Scottish Labour MEP David Martin and party colleague Richard Corbett, Charles Tannock from the ECR group, SNP deputy Alyn Smith and Molly Scott Cato from the Greens.

It says the "scale" of May's Commons defeat "means that the deal as it currently stands seems very unlikely to ever pass the Commons. This would mean that the operative provisions on citizens' rights may not come into effect, impacting on millions of citizens."

The MEPs' letter was welcomed by Roger Casale, a former Labour MP who has campaigned for citizens' rights.

"It is sad indeed that we have reached this day where we now cannot wait any longer. It seems the only person not aware of the clock ticking is the woman who started the countdown in the first place, Theresa May. But for all those people living and working across the continent, they have already spent far too long living in uncertainty about what Brexit will mean for them, and we now call on the EU to do what it can to lay their fears to rest.
"It should not be that we are calling for the EU to act unilaterally - the UK government could have made this a priority but they didn't. But now we feel that there is no other option than asking the other member states to do what our own government has refused to do," SNP MEP Alyn Smith  said on Twitter.

The letter was addressed to European Council President Donald Tusk, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker and the European Parliament's chief representative on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt.

Belgian secretary of state for asylum and migration Maggie de Block has also sought to allay the fears of the thousands of British expats in the country by issuing a statement.

"The withdrawal of the UK from the European Union will have important consequences on social security, residence and the provision of medical care. We will safeguard these rights in Belgium."

De Block said that after the UK Parliament had rejected Theresa May's Brexit deal on Tuesday evening, the Belgian government was preparing itself for all possible scenarios.

Around 3.5 million Europeans living in the UK will have to apply for residence after Brexit, and many might end up undocumented.