UK government proposal to safeguard citizen rights

Bloomberg, 27 June 2017.

The first battle of the Brexit negotiations is underway. In a sign of how contentious the talks will prove, the European Union on Monday wasted little time in rebuking Britain for not going far enough to guarantee the rights of millions of EU citizens after Britain leaves.

“More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today’s U.K. position,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Twitter. The bloc’s goal is for the “same level of protection as in EU law,” he said.

The response to a 20-page proposal from the U.K. government (see link) is a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes for the swift deal which would help open the way to the start of discussions of a trade accord.

In a plan she called “fair and serious” and which she wants reciprocated for Britons living in the bloc, May said Europeans who have been living in the U.K. for five years will get a new “settled status” after Brexit. That will allow them to be treated as if they’re British for the purposes of receiving state education, health care, benefits and pensions.

Among the concessions May made were allowing EU nationals to send welfare payments to children living elsewhere and telling them they won’t have to prove they have comprehensive sickness insurance when seeking residency. There was also an offer to make unilateral guarantees on the indexation of EU nationals’ pensions and a commitment to streamline the application process.

A “grace period” of up to two years in which applicants can get their papers in order was also suggested in a possible template for a post-Brexit transition. Brexit Secretary David Davis on Tuesday made the case for May’s plan in newspaper columns throughout the EU.

Still, the British continued to signal that the European Court of Justice should have no say in post-Brexit Britain and the document said EU nations will no longer be able to bring in non-EU family members more easily than British citizens can. Both will prove sticking points with the EU, as will the date of the cut-off — which is still to be decided.

May’s pitch will disappoint those businesses that want greater certainty for their current employees and the ability to hire foreign labor in the future. Bureaucracy is likely to increase.

“Employers who are reliant on EU staff and are focusing on their future staffing needs are going to need to work harder than ever to support their staff,” said Stephen Ratcliffe, a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie.

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