Barnier Sets Stage for Thorny Brexit Talks on Citizens' Rights

  • EU chief negotiator seeks ‘iron-clad guarantees’ for citizens
  • Reaching a deal on people is a condition for discussing trade

Barnier Says Brexit Won't Compromise Single Market

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator set the stage for months of difficult talks, laying out a long list of demands for EU residents in the U.K. and addressing topics that Prime Minister Theresa May had previously marked as red lines.

Michel Barnier, speaking at a conference in Florence, Italy, on Friday, said that residency protection rights for EU citizens living and working in the U.K. must be enforceable by the European Court of Justice, extend to relatives who may not be EU citizens and apply to people who may not have the paperwork to prove they have been residents.

“No one should be confronted with a mountain of red tape,” Barnier said, two days after the European Commission circulated a draft of negotiating directives he will follow in Brexit talks that are expected to begin in June. “In the U.K., the rights in the withdrawal agreement will need to be directly enforceable and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice maintained.”

Reaching a deal on the rights of citizens is a key condition set by the EU for agreeing to discuss the framework for a future trade relationship with Britain. Limiting the free movement of people across the bloc was one of the main demands of Brexit campaigners in the U.K., thus restricting the room for the government to offer concessions.

The cut-off date for the people who will continue to enjoy residency privileges is the day the U.K. leaves the EU, but protection should apply for the lifetime of the citizens, according to Barnier. In addition to the some 3.2 million European citizens in the U.K., privileges must also apply to frontier workers who commute to Britain, people who have worked or lived in the U.K. in the past and family members, including relatives who are not EU citizens, he said.

May, who leads by a wide margin in polls ahead of next month’s general election, had resisted granting rights to non-EU spouses while she was home secretary. As prime minister, she has also drawn a red line over the European Court of Justice maintaining jurisdiction over the U.K. post-Brexit.

Iron-Clad Guarantees

Barnier on the other hand reiterated that the 27 remaining EU countries require “iron-clad guarantees” of citizens’ rights before the negotiations on Britain leaving the bloc can move to a future trade accord. “Otherwise, there can be no trust when it comes to constructing a new relationship with the U.K.”

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said earlier on Friday that lawmakers, who have a veto over the final agreement, wouldn’t back a deal if there are no guarantees for EU citizens living or having lived in the U.K. “Without an agreement to maintain the same rights European citizens living in the U.K. enjoy today, the European Parliament will vote against the final text,” he told reporters in Florence.

European officials have repeatedly sought to tamp down British expectations that the country’s withdrawal from the bloc will prove an economic success, while maintaining that this position isn’t the result of a punitive attitude. “They are abandoning the European Union and this is a difference that will be felt over the next few years,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at the conference.

“Some in the U.K. have tried to blame member states for the continued uncertainty that citizens have been confronted with for 10 months now,” according to an emailed transcript of Barnier’s remarks. “That is wrong. The only cause of uncertainty is Brexit,” the negotiator said, adding that “all the rest is political hot air.”

— With assistance by Jones Hayden

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