Friday 24 January 2020

Johnson warned against watering down rights of EU citizens living in UK

Talks: Ursula von der Leyen will meet Boris Johnson in London today. Photo: REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
Talks: Ursula von der Leyen will meet Boris Johnson in London today. Photo: REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

Peter Foster

The EU has warned Boris Johnson not to water down protections for its citizens living in the UK after Brexit, ahead of the first meeting between the British prime minister and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.

Michel Barnier, the EU's Brexit chief negotiator, raised "issues of concern" in a letter to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay before Christmas.

Mr Barnier highlighted the need for a fully independent watchdog to enable EU citizens to make complaints against the British government.

His concerns, which have been echoed by the European Parliament, emerged last night as Ms Von der Leyen and Mr Barnier prepared to travel to London.

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Mr Johnson will stress the importance of agreeing a positive future relationship by the end of the year based on "an ambitious free trade agreement", but will reiterate that there will be no extension to the Brexit transition period, a Downing Street spokesman said.

EU officials warn that the coming year of talks risks being soured by fears over Britain's commitment to the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit on January 31.

Both the European Commission and the European Parliament have raised concerns about whether Britain will keep to the spirit of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Mr Barnier warned in his letter before Christmas that the citizens' rights watchdog - officially the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) - must have the ability "to act rapidly and in full independence" on complaints from EU citizens, adding that he looked forward to "constructive co-operation on these matters".

He added that the Commission would be monitoring the implementation of the agreement "using all available channels", including citizens' rights lobby groups in Britain.

The European Parliament, in a draft resolution to be debated in Strasbourg next week, expressed "concern" about the set-up of the IMA, and noted that the authority must be "truly independent" and should be operational immediately after the transition period ends.

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, Britain's three million EU citizens can 'grandfather' their residential and social security rights by applying for "settled status".

The European Parliament's Brexit steering group also raised "grave concern" about what it called "conflicting" signals about the fate of those who failed to register for settled status by the June 2021 deadline. Mr Barnier had also "pleaded" in his letter to Mr Barclay for a "generous interpretation" to such cases to avoid deportations.

Mr Barnier's letter emerged as Whitehall officials voiced unease that the government was trying to neuter the citizens' rights watchdog's effectiveness by handing ministers the power to abolish the body in the new draft of the withdrawal agreement bill released after the election.

The powers, which can be invoked on grounds as flimsy as the "efficiency, effectiveness and economy" of the authority, have raised alarm among opposition MPs and in the European Parliament, which must ratify the withdrawal agreement later this month.

Irish Independent

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