Ever since the Brexit referendum EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals living in other EU countries face uncertainty about their ability to stay where they are. The British government has so far refused to guarantee the rights of EU nationals. Following reports of administrative barriers, MEPs are increasingly concerned that EU citizens’ right to stay in the UK are not being fully respected. They held a debate on the issue on 1 March and will also organise hearings to gather evidence.
On 1 March the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to guarantee the rights of EU citizens, yet since the Brexit referendum the UK government has so far refused to offer any formal reassurances to the 3.1 million EU citizens living in the UK, insisting it could harm its effort to secure the rights of the 1.2 million UK nationals estimated to be living in other EU countries.
There is a growing number of reports that it is increasingly difficult for EU citizens to apply for citizenship and that some living in the country for years have even been asked to leave.
During a plenary debate on 1 March, Claude Moraes (S&D, UK) referred to the 85-page forms required to apply for UK citizenship and said that 28% of EU citizens who requested UK citizenship since the referendum had their application rejected or declared invalid: “I do not have the time here to recount the stories of heartbreak and stifling bureaucracy, but we must ask if this amounts to a UK policy or negligence of those individuals and families who we are legally obliged to protect.“ He said that although the Parliament will hold hearings to gather evidence, the Commission was able to act right away.
Many MEPs expressed their concerns over the fate of these migrants.
“Like many other MEPs I receive heartfelt emails from citizens living in the UK and across Europe,” said Catherine Bearder (ALDE, UK). “They are our doctors, our nurses, shop keepers, students, teachers and others. They are not political bargaining chips.”
Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK) said EU citizens in the UK resented the government refusing to guarantee their rights: “They feel it’s insulting, it’s demeaning and it is.”
Anthea McIntyre (ECR, UK) said UK Prime Minister Theresa May valued the contributions made by EU citizens in Britain: “That is why securing the status of EU nationals residing in the UK and of UK nationals residing in the EU is a top priority for the Prime Minister. Any delay in reaching guarantees on this issue is a consequence of timing and procedure, not of political will.”
Věra Jourová, the commissioner for justice, said: “As long as the UK remains a member state all rights and obligations continue to apply. I am fully aware that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom are concerned about their future rights. EU citizens residing in the United Kingdom deserve to know what their rights will be in the UK after the UK has left the European Union and the same applies for UK citizens residing in the other 27 member states.”
Parliament is keeping a close eye on how Brexit will affect people and regularly holds hearings with experts to discuss its impact on different domains. The most recent one was held on 28 February by the internal market and consumer protection committee Several speakers stressed the complexity of the upcoming negotiations between the UK and the EU.
Prof. Dr Fabian Amtenbrink, from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, said a comprehensive free trade agreement, would be the most likely outcome of the talks: “There is no such thing as a single blueprint or model for a free trade agreement.