Citizens' rights - an Introductory Guide to the EU Negotiations

This guide has been reproduced from the website of the campaign group RIFT - Remain in France Together. We are grateful for the permission granted to be allowed to share it.

The next weeks and months are crucial for the 1.3 million British citizens living in other EU countries (and for over 3 million EU citizens living in the UK), as negotiations get under way to settle the question of our future rights. All of us have moved in good faith to another EU country, relying on our EU citizenship rights and, in particular, our right of free movement. None of us believed that our future in our host countries would ever be thrown into doubt. And yet until we have a negotiated agreement we continue to live in uncertainty.

For many people, the negotiation process is a bit of a mystery - who's who, who's offering what to whom, how will it happen, what are likely to be the main points of contention. Press and media articles often report only parts of the issue, leaving those most affected in the dark. But as ever, information is power. On this page we bring you a 'beginners' guide' to the negotiations on citizens' rights, introducing you to the key players and issues and to those who are advocating on your behalf.

Who are the key players?

Negotiations are taking place between the European Commission and the UK, which is represented by DeXEU (the Department for Exiting the EU) nd other key departments. 

The European Commission
The Chief Negotiator is Michel Barnier, French and once a government minister before becoming an MEP and then a European Commissioner. The Deputy Chief Negotiator is Sabine Weyand, who is German and has long experience of negotiations within the EU. Both are highly skilled negotiators.

The EC has set up a dedicated negotiating team, the Task Force, made up of 29 people whose job it will be to manage, liaise, and negotiate across all stakeholders and parties over the next 24 months. You can see a chart of the Task Force's organisation here:

The European Parliament
The European Parliament has appointed Guy Verhofstadt as its chief negotiator. He's a Belgian MEP (and ex prime minister) and a staunch supporter of citizens' rights.

The UK
The UK's negotiating team is headed by David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. He's a lifelong Eurosceptic. His deputy is Tim Barrow, the UK Permanent Representative to the EU. And his right hand man is Oliver Robbins, who is an official not a politician - he's the top Permanent Secretary at DexEU and will be in charge of the technical aspects of the talks. This paper gives you a slightly dry biography of the officials who are members of the UK negotiating team, while this article puts a little more flesh on the bones and includes information on the key EU negotiators as well.

The citizens' rights advocates
Two organisations are working both together and separately to campaign, lobby and advocate on behalf of UK and EU citizens for the preservation of their rights.

British in Europe is a coalition of UK citizens in the EU and is made up of a dozen groups across the continent, representing a membership of around 35.000 British citizens who are working together to stand up for the rights of all UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. RIFT is a member group; Kalba Meadows represents RIFT in the coalition and is a member of the steering committee.

the3million is the 'sister' group to British in Europe, representing the interests of EU citizens living in the UK. 

How will the negotiations happen?

The negotiations will take place in phases. The first phase covers citizens' rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement. Only after it has been judged that 'significant progress' has been made on these issues will they proceed to subsequent stages, which will include the nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU and agreement (or not!) on trade.

Negotiations will take place in four-week cycles. Each party will prepare itself for the negotiations during the first week of the cycle and they will present their respective positions during the second week. Negotiations at chief negotiators’ level and in technical groups will occur during the third week. The fourth and last week of each negotiation round will focus on reporting to the EU27 and planning for the next cycle.

During the first phase, each of the three subjects will be discussed simultaneously in dedicated groups, which will then report back to Michel Barnier and David Davis.

The final agreement must first be agreed by the Council of the European Union. The deal must also be approved by a majority vote of the European Parliament. It must then be ratified by all 27 member states as well as by the UK Parliament. 

The European Commission  says it will ensure a maximum level of transparency during the whole negotiating process. Commission negotiating documents which are shared with EU Member States, the European Council, the European Parliament, the Council, national parliaments, and the United Kingdom will be released to the public.

What is the EU position on citizens' rights?

The EU's position is clear: citizens who are living in another EU country should not be negatively affected by the UK's decision to leave the EU and should therefore not see their rights amended or reduced.

During the first half of 2017 the European Commissio published a number of documents and guidelines concerning citizens' rights. The coalition British in Europe (see below) had the opportunity to comment on these and as a result our observations were taken into account in their opening 'offer', which you can read in full in their position paper here. They expect the UK to offer a reciprocal agreement to EU citizens living in the UK.

n short, we should have the same level of protection under EU law that we enjoy now. This includes, for all those exercising treaty rights at the effective date (the date of withdrawal):

  • the right to free movement;
  • to equal treatment;
  • to reciprocal health care;
  • to mutual recognition of qualifications, and
  • to obtain permanent residence after 5 years.

These rights will be valid for life and will extend to family members, whatever their nationality. Under this very good offer from the EU, the upshot is that if you're living here now or moving here before the date that the UK formally leaves the EU, you would see little change to the rights you currently hold as an EU citizen.

What is the UK position?

The UK opening position paper on EU citizens' rights has been publishe on Monday 26 June. The United Kingdom's exit from the European Union: safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU .
More here once we've digested it!

Who are the citizens' advocates?

Since January 2017, UK citizens living in the EU have been represented by the coalition British in Europe, which was formed by the coming together of 11 groups of citizens from a number of different EU countries, including RIFT. Altogether we directly represent over 35,000 citizens in our member groups, and indirectly represent the interests of all UK citizens who have made their home in another EU country.

British in Europe aims to ensure that our rights are fairly and equally represented in the negotiations and we have very quickly become active players on the citizens' rights stage. Amongst the 20 or so members of the wider committee of British in Europe we have much professional and other experience, including legal, advocacy and media expertise.

We work with and alongside the3million, which is a similar group set up in 2016 to represent the interests of over 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. 

What are we advocating for?

British in Europe advocates that the rights we hold as EU citizens are indivisible. We completely agree with this point made by the House of Lords European Union Committee in its report “Brexit: acquired rights” (14 December 2016, para. 121): "In our view EU citizenship rights are indivisible. Taken as a whole they make it possible for an EU citizen to live, work, study and have a family in another EU Member State. Remove one, and the operation of others is affected. It is our strong recommendation, therefore, that the full scope of EU citizenship rights be fully safeguarded in the withdrawal agreement".

What does this mean? In short, it means that our rights are only useful to us when taken as a whole package. For example, there is little point in a lawyer having the right to reside if she no longer has the right to have her UK qualifications recognised in her host country and therefore can't work; or in a UK state pensioner being given residence rights without the continued right to reciprocal health care.

This is our governing principle:

he UK’s withdrawal from the EU should not have retrospective effect on individuals. UK citizens currently resident in the EU and EU citizens currently resident in the UK should be expressly treated as continuing to have the same rights as they had before Brexit. This is not confined to a right of continued residence but extends to all related rights such as the acquisition of citizenship, the right to continue to work, whether employed or self-employed, or run a business, recognition of qualifications, right to study, right of equal treatment, right to move between and work freely across all EU countries without loss or change of any existing EU rights, the right to healthcare, pensions, social benefits/social assistance etc. In short, the full complex of indivisible EU citizenship rights that they currently have should be guaranteed for these individuals.

At present, the EU's negotiating stance is that 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'. This position worries us, and we are actively campaigning for the agreement on citizens' rights to be ring-fenced from the rest of the withdrawal agreement. There are two reasons why this is important.

  1. UK and EU citizens have been living in uncertainty about our future now for over a year, since the referendum result. Even if an agreement on citizens' rights is satisfactorily concluded this year, without ring-fencing it would not be ratified until the rest of the negotiations are concluded, in 2019 at the earliest. We don't believe that it's acceptable that we should have to spend another 21 months waiting for certainty over our futures.
  2.  If the citizens' rights agreement is not ring-fenced from the main withdrawal agreement, and the UK and EU are unable to agree on withdrawal terms (the 'no-deal' scenario) then the agreement would become null and void and we would become third country nationals, with no secured rights, on the date of withdrawal.


How are we doing it?

British in Europe works at a number of different levels and in a number of different ways. Since our formation in January 2017 we have, amongst other things:

  • Written and widely circulated an Alternative White Paper that clearly sets out our concerns and our governing principle. A shortened version of the Paper has also been produced and translated into the main EU languages.
  • Met with both officials and ministers (David Jones) at DeXEU, in London and in Madrid. Meetings are continuing through the negotiation period.
  • Met with Michel Barnier, the EC's Chief Negotiator, and many other EU politicians and officials in Brussels and elsewhere. We're fortunate in having two members with expertise in high level EU lobbying who are currently spending many hours a week on this; regular meetings and dialogue will continue throughout the negotiations.
  • Commented on the first draft of the EU draft negotiating guidelines. Our comments were taken into account in the second draft, including the inclusion of free movement which had been absent from the initial draft.
  • Worked with Peers to produce an amendment to the Brexit bill which would have included a unilateral guarantee of citizens'  rights in the clause notifying the intention to withdraw from the EU. Unfortunately this was not passed, but in the process we raised a lot of awareness and made many good contacts who are now very supportive of our cause.
  • Undertaken joint exercises to mass-lobby ministers, party leaders, MPs and election candidates many times on specific issues, including unilateral guarantees, ring-fencing and Votes for Life.
  • Issued countless press releases and statements at every significant development, most of which have been published. The Guardian in particular closely follows our story.
  • Met politicians in various EU countries to discuss our situation and lobby for their support. This aspect of our work will increase as negotiations proceed.

embers of the British in Europe committee - who are mainly the coordinators and leaders of its member groups - live all over Europe. We 'meet' regularly via conference and video calls and are in constant communication by email and team collaboration software.