The British government has announced contingency plans for Britain to leave the EU without an agreement in the area of EU citizens’ rights in the UK. These rights have been watered down compared with previous commitments.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May said in September that EU citizens’ rights would be protected even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In her talks with Poland’s Prime Minister she assured him that the rights of Poles living in the UK would be protected.
EU leaders have previously said the manner in which the British government treats their citizens will be reflected in the hurdles that face UK nationals living on the continent.
The settled status scheme envisioned in the withdrawal agreement, under which the government would allow those already in the country to stay and enjoy similar rights to those they have today, is still the basis of the UK’s offer in the event of Britain leaving the UK without a deal. But it will only apply to EU nationals who arrive before 29 March 2019, rather than the end of 2020 when the transition period assumed in the withdrawal agreement would come to an end. There would be an earlier deadline for applications, of 31 December 2020 rather than 30 June 2021, and there would be no right of appeal for applicants.
Non-EU family members would also be at a disadvantage compared to the agreement which has been reached and which is awaiting acceptance by Britain’s Parliament, with a new cut-off date in 2022 proposed for them to join to live with their families.
A spokesperson for the UK government said: “An agreement with the EU is the only way to fully protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK... In a no-deal scenario EU citizens would be able to broadly live, work and study as they would in a deal scenario. After a three-year transition period, EU citizens’ right to family reunion will be brought in line with those of British citizens and non-EU nationals, ensuring fairness in our immigration system….”
The government goes on to explain changes derived from the lack of an agreement.
“There will also be some changes to reflect that there would not be an implementation period. For instance, EU citizens and their family members will have until December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme but with no six-month grace period. This guarantee would only apply to EU citizens who are resident here by exit day.”
“The3million”, the campaign group representing EU citizens in the UK, criticised the government’s approach: “This situation arising from a no deal Brexit is unacceptable and it is high time now for both Downing Street and the EU Commission to get together and ring-fence, to rescue the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement no matter what Brexit we get.”
Anxiety for Poles over Brexit
Poles will await the result of the current debate in Britain’s Parliament with some anxiety. There are over a million Poles living and working in the UK. Britain is one of Poland’s largest trading partners in the EU. Britain has been a strong ally of Poland in the EU on issues such preserving competition in the single market, the enlargement of the EU, sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and maintaining close ties with the USA. It has also been an important counter-weight to the Franco-German axis in the EU.