Thursday 04 June 2020

Citizens’ rights should be guaranteed, regardless of Brexit


European leaders should guarantee the rights of British and Dutch nationals alike ahead of Brexit, say D66 MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld and MP Kees Verhoeven.

The spectre of failed Brexit negotiations between the EU and Britain means that the status of millions of people at risk. Will they be unceremoniously kicked out of the country between now and a year’s time? Can they keep their jobs? It is high time assurances were put in place for these people now that a no-deal Brexit seems to be approaching fast.

After 45 years of British EU membership, it is only six months until Brexit and negotiations are stalling. But whatever the outcome, European government leaders must separate the fundamental civil rights of ordinary Europeans from the negotiations on trade and the economy.

Alarm bells are ringing for 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.5 million Britons living elsewhere in the EU. Five million people are standing helplessly by as a no-deal Brexit looms with all the disruption to personal lives this could entail.

Unilateral statement

These are people who have used their rights as European citizens in good faith. They live, work or study in a different EU member state than the one stated in their passports. A large number were born with these rights. They had families, bought a house, started a business. Now their gains and their rights could be in danger.

The European Parliament will only agree to a Brexit deal if the civil rights of all Europeans who are affected by Brexit are guaranteed.

However, if no deal is reached the European Parliament will have no say in this and it will be up to individual national governments to decide. That is why the EU and European government leaders must unilaterally declare that the rights of British citizens in the EU are secure.

Meaningful concept

For a start, leaders should follow the German example and allow duo nationality for those duped by Brexit. That would not only help Brits in Europe but it would also be in the interest of over 100,000 Dutch citizens currently living in the UK. Europe, as the stronger negotiation partner, must do its utmost to keep that particular fuse far away from the powder keg.

People affected by Brexit have long pleaded with the authorities to provide more clarity. They should have been heard much sooner and helped with the same zeal that companies are being supported as they prepare for Brexit.

It is time they were offered a way out of the impasse, not just because they, unlike the multinationals, have nobody to go to bat for them but to show that European citizenship is not an empty concept to be obliterated at the stroke of a pen. Civil rights should be guaranteed,  deal or no deal.

This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant

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