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3rd Mar 2024

UK previews offer on EU nationals' rights

  • Davis played down speculation that he might challenge May (Photo: European Commission)

EU nationals in the UK could get almost the same rights as British people after Brexit, but an EU deal might not happen, the British government has said.

“They [EU nationals] get the same residents rights, the same employment rights, the same health rights, the same welfare rights, the same pension rights and so on”, David Davis, the UK’s Brexit negotiator, told the BBC on Sunday (25 June).

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He added, in a preview of a UK proposal on citizens’ rights due out later on Monday: “The only thing they don’t get is the right to vote and they can get that if they become a citizen.”

He said that a new arbitration tribunal, but not the European Court of Justice (ECJ), should oversee those rights.

“It may well be we have an arbitration arrangement over this, but it’s not going to be the Court of Justice”, he said.

He said some EU nationals could, in future, be deported if “they’ve committed a crime or [posed] some sort of security problem”.

He also said all EU nationals who had arrived in the UK prior to March this year would definitely be covered by the deal.

The rights of 3.2 million EU citizens living in Britain and 0.9 million UK nationals in the EU, as well as Britain’s membership of the single market and customs union would dissolve if Brexit ends badly.

But Davis said he could not guarantee a positive outcome.

“I am pretty sure, I am not 100 percent sure [there will be a deal], it's a negotiation”, he told the BBC.

“We cannot have a circumstance where the other side says that they are going to punish you. So if that happens then there is a walkaway, and we have to plan for that,” he said.

Britain’s proposal on citizens’ rights comes after EU leaders voiced scepticism on its initial ideas at a summit in Brussels last week.

“The British offer is below expectations, and risks worsening the situation of citizens”, European Council head Donald Tusk said after hearing from British leader Theresa May at the event.

Malta, which currently holds the six-month EU presidency, said May was vague on the rights of EU nationals’ relatives.

Very French

ECJ jurisdiction is also a red line for the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, French politician Michel Barnier.

Davis said in the BBC interview that Barnier, whom he met last week, was “very French, very logical … very grand [and] … very elegant”.

He said the Brexit process was “not an ideological thing - it is a practical thing.”

“It is not a macho clashing of antlers, it is about finding a place that suits both sides”, he said.

He added that the UK wanted a quick deal on citizens and on Northern Ireland before moving on to trade talks.

He said Northern Ireland and Ireland should have an "invisible border” after Brexit, but that this involved a lot of “technical” issues, such as car number plate recognition.

The Brexit process comes in parallel to May’s talks with Northern Ireland’s unionist DUP party on a post-election accord.

May, who lost her parliamentary majority in recent elections, needs DUP support to enable her Conservative Party to stay in power.

Davis played down speculation that he might challenge May for the party leadership in the wake of her election losses.

“Our job is to support the prime minister and make Brexit work, not anything else,” he told the BBC in a message to other Tory MPs.

“I want a stable backdrop to this Brexit negotiation,” he said.

Repeal Bill

He also warned the opposition Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP) not to vote against any future Brexit pact when it is transferred into British law in a so called Repeal Bill.

“The point about the great repeal bill is that it takes European law and puts it into British law so there’s no black hole at the other end,” he said.

He said “the British statute book, British law” would become “unworkable” if the Repeal Bill fell when the UK exited the EU.

The Labour Party’s shadow minister on Brexit and the opposition Liberal Party’s Brexit spokesman criticised Davis’ comments.

Labour’s Keith Stramer said Davis appeared to be “preparing for failure” on Brexit and that lack of a British-EU deal “would be catastrophic for British trade, jobs and security”.

The Liberal Party’s Tom Brake said Davis “inspires about as much confidence as a drunken trapeze artist”.

Hannah Bardell, an SNP deputy, said the no-deal scenario would be “disastrous” for Scotland, which could lose up to 800,000 jobs as a result.

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