EU must change stance to protect citizens' rights, say Lib Dems

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EU citizens in the UK and Britons living in Europe will face a further 18 months of turmoil unless the European commission urgently changes its stance on agreeing an early deal on citizens’ rights, a former Lib Dem cabinet minister has warned.

The party is writing to negotiators at the European commission and the European parliament, as well as Theresa May, to argue that they should allow for ringfencing of citizens’ rights to ensure any deal on EU citizens does not collapse if the UK and EU fail to reach an exit deal by the end of March 2019.

In the strongest criticism yet from the pro-Europe party of the EU’s negotiating position, former energy secretary Ed Davey said the commission’s “nothing is agreed till everything is agreed” approach to citizens’ rights needed to change.

“The European commission must go back to EU capitals and ask for a new negotiating mandate. If it doesn’t try it could be almost as culpable as the Brexiteers for letting down European citizens,” Davey said.

Ringfencing would allow negotiations on EU citizens rights to carry on under a separate track and be agreed regardless of how the rest of the negotiations progress, so even if other negotiations fail, the rights of citizens could be decided early.

On Wednesday, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, said there was a “moral imperative” to reach a quick deal on the rights of European Union nationals in Britain and UK expats on the continent.

However, there are fundamental disagreements on the role of the European court of justice, which Brussels has said should oversee the rights of EU nationals already in the UK, rather than the British courts.

Davis said that was comparable to the US supreme court having a say over British law. “I don’t think anybody has ever argued that the British courts are anything other than trustworthy in terms of defending the rights of individuals,” Davis said, speaking on a visit to the Czech Republic.

The division over the jurisdiction of the European court cuts to the heart of the negotiations and is unlikely to be easily ringfenced.

Divisions have also emerged over the UK’s desire to carry out criminal records checks on EU nationals who apply for settled status, which the EU said would be an “administrative burden” and “intrusive to people’s privacy”.

The call to ringfence the issue of citizens’ rights has been backed by two of the main umbrella groups representing EU citizens in the UK, the3million and UK citizens group British in Europe.

Davey said he had also been angered by the lack of consultation by the UK government with the two groups – who he said had told him they had found the EU to be far more receptive.

In a letter to May from Davey and the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, the MPs said they were shocked by the stark difference in approach. “We were told that whilst the commission reached out to these groups to consult on the offer they were proposing, the UK government simply held an information session once the aforementioned UK policy paper was complete,” the letter reads.

The letter calls on Downing Street to urgently consult with the groups on the “strong moral, practical and legal reasons” for a ringfencing approach to EU citizens’ rights.

“The talk of a ‘no deal’, not least by the UK government, has added to people’s anxieties. They fear that ’no deal’ will mean that they will, by default, lose their rights.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th July 2017 13.58 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010