The Next Steps in British in Europe’s Campaign for Ring-fencing

For the five million citizens whose status is most directly affected by Brexit, the Costa amendment in the House of Commons last week asking for the ring-fencing of their rights was an enormous victory. Through intensive lobbying, the3million and British in Europe received the unanimous backing of the UK Parliament to push for legally guaranteeing citizens’ rights in the event of a no deal. Now we are asking the EU27 to do the same.

While we are making this request now, we appreciate that ring-fencing can only be confirmed at the point where a no deal is the only option on the table, but before the Article 50 deadline. We clearly recognise that a settlement of all of the issues covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly regarding Northern Ireland, must be the priority in the negotiations to reach a deal.

We are NOT asking for the Withdrawal Agreement to be reopened. What we are asking for is that rather than No Deal the parties confirm the one part of the Agreement which is not controversial and which is not a quid pro quo for anything that is.

So we are asking for the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement to be confirmed under Article 50 as a residual Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. a rump agreement if everything else fails, between the EU and the UK, which would have the force of international law. Let’s remember that both sides agreed from the start that people should be the first priority in the negotiations.

The protection provided for citizens under the Withdrawal Agreement is better than any unilateral guarantees that the UK and the EU 27 can make because key areas, like healthcare and pensions, have to be agreed bilaterally between the EU and UK. So this painstakingly negotiated agreement should not simply fall away in the case of no deal. Legally this can be done if there is the political will, but it would require the European Council to change its original Negotiating Guidelines.

In its 2017 negotiating directives, the EU clearly expressed its desire for the citizens affected by Brexit to ‘continue to live as they are doing today for the whole of their lives’. The Withdrawal Agreement does not do that fully for either EU 27 citizens in the UK or Britons in the EU-27, but we are clear that it is far better than any no deal contingency plan and it does provide legal certainty. That is what citizens desperately need after nearly three years in limbo as we teeter on the brink of a cliff edge.

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