British citizens in EU fear being ‘sacrificial lambs’ post-Brexit

UK urged to reciprocate EU proposals rather than continue with Theresa May’s latest plan

British citizens settled in Europe have expressed concern that prime minister Theresa May is willing to sacrifice some of their rights post-Brexit to cement immigration limits on EU citizens coming to the UK.

They have renewed calls on the UK to reciprocate the proposals made by the EU rather than continue with the plan unveiled by Ms May in the House of Commons on Monday.

"If May wants to be 'fair and serious', she should just agree quickly to everything the EU has already proposed. We are merely asking to maintain the status quo, with no degradation of our rights - it's not a matter of generosity but of justice," said Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, which is campaigning on behalf of an estimated 300,000 Britons living in the country.

“If she is proposing to limit rights and freedoms in any way, then we deserve to know which of those rights she is prepared to sacrifice,” added Wilson.


British in Europe, a coalition representing 11 UK citizens groups across Europe, said it was worried that British citizens in Europe were being ignored in the rush for new immigration rules for EU citizens coming to the UK.

"We believe the UK government must do a lot more to show that it takes seriously its duty of care and protection to 1.2 million UK citizens in Europe. Otherwise we run the risk of being the sacrificial lambs of Brexit," said Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe.

‘Putting rights at risk’

“Most of [Ms May’s proposal] is dealing with the immigration status of EU citizens in the UK, yet we represent by far the largest national group of people who will be impacted by the citizens’ rights deal. The government strategy is clearly putting our future rights at risk,” she added.

“All along she has said she couldn’t offer a unilateral deal because she wanted to protect Britons in Europe, but the impact of this proposal would be negative for us,” she said.

Ms Golding was one of a number of campaign group representatives who met with ministers from the Home Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union on Monday. She described the talks as constructive but said the offer lacked "detail" and "clarity".

She and the 3 Million campaign group in Britain will have a further day of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday, including with the Article 50 taskforce.

Britons in Europe said it was surprised the British deal fell short of the EU deal to guarantee all rights given and that Ms May had expressly said she could not make a unilateral offer because she wanted Britons in Europe to be protected.

Two weeks ago the EU tabled a four-page proposal that all rights of all EU citizens impacted by Brexit would be protected for life. This would mean the status quo for both Britons in the EU and EU citizens in the UK in terms of rights to residency, to work, to establish a business, to have access to healthcare and to accumulate a full pension from any country in Europe.

However, Ms May came back on Monday with a proposal that would curtail some of those rights.

Key concerns

Among the key concerns is a proposal to end EU citizens’ right to automatically have an elderly parent, a sick relative or an EU spouse join them in the UK.

British people settled in Europe for decades would have to return to the UK if they needed to look after an elderly parent.

It would also prevent Britons married to EU citizens and living in the EU from returning home with their EU spouses.

Ms Golding said while the EU proposal went through the categories of rights and offered guarantees, the UK seemed to be obfuscating in areas including health and pensions.

“Any offer by any side cannot be described as generous. All people want is the status quo and to continue with their lives. All we are looking for is to have what we have already,” said Ms Golding.

The campaign group Britons in France has also raised concerns about the rights of UK citizens in that country if Britain were to walk away with no deal. Roger Boaden of the support group Expat Citizen Rights in EU said the deal needed to be "ringfenced" from the wider Brexit agreement.

Guardian service