Although the former Brexit Secretary and Michel Barnier said in March 2018 that the chapter of the draft Withdrawal Agreement on citizens' rights had been finalised, substantial issues remain unresolved for British citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK.
Clarification on rights needed
The EU's position on EU citizens in the UK has been to insist on no diminution of their rights, but this has to work both ways. The Committee's report calls for urgent clarification from the EU27 on the preparations that they are making to regularise the status of UK citizens in each Member State.
Continued rights of free movement, other associated rights, provisions for registration of UK citizens, recognition of professional qualifications, voting rights and whether UK citizens can continue with or apply for dual nationality are all other causes for concern. The Committee calls in particular for the Government to press for an agreement on ongoing free movement within the EU27 for UK citizens currently resident in the EU.
'Settled status' application process
The UK Government has said it wants EU citizens to stay in the UK and their right to remain will come through the Home Secretary's scheme of "settled status". However, the digital application process proposed by the Home Office risks creating barriers for applicants and confusion among those required to make the checks, including potential landlords and employers.
The timetable and deadlines for the roll-out of this scheme – expected to process three million applications - are challenging and ensuring its success will require a considerable public information programme. Once applications are processed, evidence to the inquiry led the Committee to recommend that a physical document such as a residency card should be issued, rather than relying on a digital format, as this would provide more reassurance and familiarity and could be more readily shown to employers and potential landlords.
The Committee calls for the process for EU citizens in the UK to get settled status to be cost-free provided agreement is secured that UK citizens in the EU will not incur a charge to do the same. For the Irish in Britain, the Government should set out detailed guidance to clarify why they might choose to apply for Settled Status and any applications should be free.
The UK Government should also explain clearly what will happen to EU citizens who fail to apply for settled status in the UK after the transition and grace periods end.
In the event of 'no deal', the Committee calls on the UK and the individual Member States to make public statements to assure all EU and UK citizens living on their territory that they will safeguard their rights.
The Chair of the Committee, Hilary Benn MP, commented:
"Citizens' Rights was one area of the Brexit negotiations marked as green in the March draft of the Withdrawal Agreement which implied that it was all sorted. But the evidence we have heard suggests it is far from being finalised.
In evidence to our inquiry, we heard the hopes and fears of UK citizens in the EU as well as of EU citizens resident here in the UK. These are people who have made their lives in the EU in good faith or came to live and work in the UK, paying taxes, raising families and putting down roots. The rights of UK citizens living in the EU27 and of EU nationals in the UK should be based on full reciprocity, but as things stand, both groups are likely to lose some of the rights they had previously. That's not fair and it's why we want to see further progress quickly.
And whatever happens with the negotiations, we urge all Governments to make it clear to all EU citizens who have made somewhere else their home, that they can stay."