Protect EU citizens’ rights in withdrawal agreement, lords say

14 December 2016


The risk of the loss of EU citizenship rights for EU nationals in the UK, and for UK nationals in EU Member States, as a consequence of Brexit requires action “now”, says a Lords report published today.

The report calls on the Government to give a unilateral undertaking immediately to guarantee to safeguard the EU citizenship rights of all EU nationals in the UK when the UK withdraws from the EU. The overwhelming weight of the evidence received points to this as morally the right thing to do.

If, regrettably, the Government does not choose this course, there is a strong case to be made for agreeing EU citizenship rights as a preliminary and separate element of the negotiations as soon as Article 50 is triggered. EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in other EU Member States should not have to wait until the end of the negotiations to find out whether they have a future in the EU States where they have decided to live.

If EU citizenship rights are not safeguarded in the withdrawal agreement the consequences for EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living abroad will be severe. Both will be subject to national immigration law, which restricts the rights of migrants. UK immigration law has been described as ‘Byzantine’ in complexity. It is essential, therefore, that the Great Repeal Bill ensures that all EU citizenship rights would continue were the UK to leave the EU without any withdrawal agreement.

Evidence submitted to the Committee suggests that if EU nationals who have been in the UK for over five years, and who are economically inactive (such as the retired or students,) are unable to provide comprehensive sickness insurance, they may not meet the criteria for permanent residency. The Committee calls on the Government to explain whether this consideration will influence the decision it makes on the cut-off point for deciding which EU nationals in the UK are given a permanent right to reside after Brexit.

Commenting on the report, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee, said:

“The Government is under a moral obligation to give a unilateral declaration immediately to safeguard the EU citizenship rights of all EU nationals in the UK when the UK withdraws from the EU.

“I also believe that such a gesture will stimulate reciprocal commitments from the other EU countries where UK citizens are currently living.

“For the last six months, the lives of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU have been shrouded in anxiety. Their rights to live, work and reside in their country of choice are now so unclear that people have no idea how, or even where, they should plan their futures.

“Most shockingly the rise in xenophobic behaviour since the referendum has now meant that EU citizens who have contributed to the UK economy for years no longer feel welcome in the country they call home. We find that unacceptable.”

Key Findings

Uncertainty must end

There is compelling evidence of the deep anxiety of EU nationals in the UK and of UK nationals in other EU Member States. The Government must give a unilateral undertaking now, or settle the issue as a preliminary element of the withdrawal negotiations as soon as Article 50 is triggered.

The necessity of safeguards in the withdrawal agreement

The principle of acquired rights in international law is both narrow in scope and difficult to enforce. The evidence is clear in that if the UK wants to preserve certain EU rights on withdrawal, it will have to ensure they are safeguarded in the withdrawal agreement.

EU Rights cannot be divided

EU citizenship rights are indivisible, as the rights of EU citizens to live, work, study and have a family in another EU Member State are inextricably inter-dependent. The Government should protect the full scope of EU citizenship rights in the withdrawal agreement.

The Committee’s report Brexit: acquired rights is the third of six reports in six days from the House of Lords European Union Committee on the impact of Brexit on a range of different issues. To request a copy of the report contact lordspressoffice@parliament.uk.

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