Brexit: Brussels refuses UK request for separate citizens’ rights deal

Barnier warns UK Brexit secretary withdrawal agreement cannot be carved up

Michel Barnier, above, has told Brexit secretary Steve Barclay there can be no cherry-picking of the deal. Photograph: Bart Maat/EPA

Michel Barnier, above, has told Brexit secretary Steve Barclay there can be no cherry-picking of the deal. Photograph: Bart Maat/EPA


Michel Barnier has firmly rebuffed UK proposals for cutting out and agreeing a part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that deals with citizens’ rights in the aftermath of Brexit.

The EU’s chief negotiator has told Brexit secretary Steve Barclay that the provisions of the agreement are “part of an overall and comprehensive approach”, in effect that there can be no cherry-picking of the deal, which is in any case “not open for renegotiation”.

Mr Barnier insists that all the citizens’ rights provisions of the agreement, including the right to see cases adjudicated by the Court of Justice of the EU, and the Irish backstop, are interdependent and cannot be separated without treating some citizens unequally.

Mr Barclay, in a letter in March to Mr Barnier, had sought to provide legal security for British citizens living in the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit through what he suggested would be an EU-UK agreement on the section of the withdrawal agreement dealing with the mutual recognition of citizens’ rights.  

In a further letter to Mr Barnier on Tuesday, responding to the EU negotiator’s rejection of his proposal, Mr Barclay appealed for a rethink and for “sustained” efforts to reach a compromise.

Brussels insists it will not engage in talks with the UK on no-deal scenarios and that any emergency provisions that may need to be made to ensure continuity can be done only by means of reciprocated unilateral declarations. The EU has already committed unilaterally to safeguarding citizens’ rights in a no-deal situation as well as recognition of, for example, airline safety standards.

Food alignment

In food and animal health provisions, the UK has offered unilaterally to sustain alignment with EU regulations, a move that, after a no-deal Brexit, should allow talks to start rapidly on how to avoid controls at the Irish Border. But only, the commission insists, after a no-deal Brexit has happened.

In the case of the continuation after Brexit of EU citizens’ rights being maintained in their country of residence, the UK has agreed to the provisions made in the withdrawal agreement, but it is up to the 27 member states to reciprocate individually in respect of UK citizens. They have done so but provision, notably in healthcare entitlements, has been uneven.

Conservative Party MP Alberto Costa successfully got a House of Commons motion passed that required the government to seek a joint UK-EU commitment to preserve the citizens’ rights section of the withdrawal agreement, whatever the outcome of negotiations.

Brussels, in the form of Mr Barnier , can only encourage the 27 to be generous.

The exchange of letters between Mr Barclay and Mr Barnier, and particularly their publication, come at a significant time. Conservative candidates are vying with each other to insist that they are best equipped to reopen the withdrawal agreement, just as the Brexit secretary is being told again it is not up for amendment, and certainly not for dismembering, as Boris Johnson has suggested.