The UK and EU have been dragged into a blame game over EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, with each accusing the other of falling short in safeguarding the rights of expatriates.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, on Thursday accused EU countries of not doing enough to support British nationals living on the continent, ahead of the UK publishing details of its own plan for EU citizens living in Britain.
But campaigners for the rights of British nationals living abroad said the government’s claim to be concerned was “a bit rich” given their apparent lack of interest so far.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, also said the body had a “number of very serious concerns” of its own about the UK government’s registration plan for EU nationals.
Mr Javid said: “Publishing details of how we will administer our settled status scheme shows we are honouring the commitments made towards EU citizens living in the UK.
“But I am concerned that I have not seen any similar plans on how EU member states are going to support British nationals in their countries. This is not good enough and I hope both the European parliament and commission will exert more pressure for them to do this as soon as possible.”
But Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe, said the uncertainty was ultimately the fault of the UK.
“Obviously, we welcome any interest from the UK government when it comes to fighting the corner of its 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent. However, as Mary Berry might have said: this display of concern from the British government is a bit late and a bit rich,” she told The Independent.
“What the home secretary appears not to realise is that it is the UK government that has thrown its own nationals in Europe into this uncertainty by insisting on introducing settled status for EU citizens in the UK so that it became an option for us in the EU27 in December’s last-minute deal. The EU27 was not interested in settled status up until then.
“Furthermore, Mr Javid seems to be asking all the wrong questions. Rather than asking what systems the EU27 are planning to set up he should know by now that the current registration systems across the EU27 are largely working well and that it is only France – along with the UK- that doesn’t require some form of registration for EU citizens. As such, he should be asking what the EU 27 is planning to do to tweak existing systems, rather than setting up new ones.”
British citizens living in the EU face uncertainty about their futures and a loss of free movement rights.
The UK government’s hands-off approach contrasts with that of the Netherlands, whose government has gone as far as to change the law to allow Dutch nationals living in Britain to adopt dual UK and Dutch citizenship – in direct response to Brexit.
Mr Verhofstadt said: “The European parliament will soon launch an extensive process in order to scrutinise the preparations being made by EU countries for British expats and we continue to believe the unresolved issue of onward movement rights must also be addressed for any deal to be reached. The European parliament will defend the rights of all those affected by Brexit.
“The European parliament still has a number of very serious concerns over the UK government’s registration process, including the need to better cater for vulnerable groups and the high cost of the settled status process for EU citizens who exercised their legal right and moved to the UK to work before Article 50 was even triggered. Why should EU citizens be financially punished for the Brexit referendum outcome, when we don’t even know yet what the future EU-UK mobility agreement will look like?”
“We need to know what the independent authority tasked with protecting the rights of EU27 citizens in the UK will look like and what powers it will have.The UK has agreed to set up a powerful new body to oversee the rights of EU citizens, though we are yet to see any definitive proposals.”
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