Michel Barnier REJECTs attempt by UK to guarantee protection of citizens’ rights in a No Deal Brexit as fresh row over Withdrawal Agreement boils over
- Stephen Barclay asks EU to ‘ring-fence’ citizens’ rights protections in Brexit deal
- Move would mean certainty for Britons living in EU in event of a No Deal divorce
- But Michel Barnier rejects UK’s appeal and tells ministers not to be ‘distracted’
The EU and UK are embroiled in a fresh row over how best to protect the rights of citizens in the event of a No Deal Brexit after Michel Barnier rejected an appeal from the British government.
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, urged Brussels to agree to ‘ring-fence’ part of the Withdrawal Agreement which protects the rights so that the measures are implemented even if the UK leaves the bloc without an overall deal.
But it has emerged the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator poured cold water on the proposal.
He told the UK it would be ‘far from straightforward’ and warned ministers not to be ‘distracted’ from the main goal of securing support for the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Barclay has now urged Mr Barnier to reconsider amid fears that Britons living in the EU could struggle to access healthcare in some member states if the UK leaves without an agreement on October 31.
The substance of the Withdrawal Agreement, which has been rejected by MPs three times, has largely taken a backseat in recent weeks because of the Tory leadership race.
But the Government has been trying behind the scenes to persuade Brussels to budge on the issue of citizens’ rights.
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, has urged Michel Barnier to ‘ring-fence’ the part of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to the protection of citizens’ rights so that the measures are implemented even if the UK and EU cannot agree to the overall deal.
In February MPs supported a proposal which required the Government to seek a commitment from the EU to implement the citizens’ rights part of the existing deal even if the rest of the agreement is rejected.
Mr Barclay told Mr Barnier in a letter sent in March that he wanted the rights ‘safeguarded in all scenarios’ as he urged him to agree to a ‘ring-fenced’ agreement on citizens’ rights.
But Mr Barnier rejected the request and said the ‘best way to safeguard the rights of the citizens’ was for MPs to ratify the existing deal.
He said the relevant sections in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to protecting citizens’ rights were ‘part of an overall and comprehensive approach’ and it would be ‘far from straightforward’ to separate them from the rest of the deal.
‘It is indeed difficult to see how citizens could be able to rely on specific provisions in the absence of the whole structure guaranteeing the applicability and enforceability of the Agreement,’ he said.
Mr Barnier said the EU had already prepared for a No Deal scenario and that ‘even in this undesired scenario the rights of British nationals residing in the Union would remain a priority’ and they would not be ‘left in the dark’.
He said the Government should ‘not be distracted’ from the ‘essential objective’ of the Withdrawal Agreement being backed ratified.
New correspondence published today by the Department for Exiting the European Union shows Mr Barclay has refused to take no for an answer.
Michel Barnier, pictured alongside Jean-Claude Juncker and Nicola Sturgeon earlier this month, has rejected Mr Barclay’s appeal on citizens’ rights and said the UK should focus on persuading a majority of MPs to back the Withdrawal Agreement
Mr Barclay said in a new letter to Mr Barnier that there were ‘gaps’ in the EU’s current plan to protect citizens’ rights as he urged him to reconsider.
‘To conclude, I agree that our joint efforts should remain focused on making sure that we reach an agreement in order to secure an orderly departure for both the UK and the EU,’ he wrote.
‘However, I suggest that together our officials continue to work on how we best protect citizen’s rights in all scenarios.’
The EU has largely left the issue of protecting the rights of UK nationals living on the continent post-Brexit in the hands of individual member states.
The UK has made its own unilateral offer to protect the rights of EU nationals living in Britain in the event of No Deal.
The offer means EU citizens will be able to continue to access healthcare and social security as they do now.