The European parliament is to criticise the British government’s treatment of EU citizens living in the UK and insist it will refuse to ratify a deal that fails to include an Irish backstop and provisions that tie the UK into EU standards after Brexit.
A leaked copy of a resolution of the parliament due to be voted on next week lays out a series of concerns about the conduct of Boris Johnson’s government. The parliament has a veto on any deal agreed.
The resolution, drafted by the main political parties in the parliament, reiterates the EU’s complaint that the UK government “insists that the backstop must be removed from the withdrawal agreement but has not until now put forward legally operable proposals that could replace it”.
It expresses the EU’s “readiness to revert to a Northern Ireland-only backstop”, the original proposal from the bloc rejected by Theresa May as being a threat to the UK’s constitutional integrity. But the resolution stresses it “will not give consent to a withdrawal agreement without a backstop”.
The EU insists any deal must include a last-resort arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the all-Ireland economy under any circumstances.
In light of the UK government’s stated policy of seeking regulatory divergence from the EU in order to gain a competitive advantage, the parliament further “calls into question how close the future EU/UK economic relationship can be”.
Demanding provisions in any future deal that ensure the UK signs up to “high levels of environmental, employment and consumer protections”, the resolution warns “any free-trade agreement that fails to respect such levels of protection would not be ratified by the European parliament”. Johnson’s EU envoy, David Frost, has in recent days spoken with European commission officials about the UK’s intention to diverge from EU standards.
But the strongest criticism of Johnson’s approach is reserved for the prime minister’s treatment of EU citizens living in the UK which the parliament accuses of worsening an already “hostile environment”.
A sharp rise in the proportion of EU citizens not considered eligible for so-called settled status has caused alarm among campaign groups and MEPs in recent weeks.
The proportion of people instead being granted “pre-settled” status – and therefore finding themselves without a guaranteed permanent right to remain – has risen from 32% during the testing phase to 34% in the month after the national launch in March, and on to 42% in July.
The parliament’s resolution “expresses its concern at the implementation of the UK’s settlement scheme and the high levels of applications … who are only accorded pre-settled status”.
The parliament calls on the UK to adopt a “declaratory” scheme in which the burden of proving an EU citizen does not have the right to permanently stay is placed on the Home Office.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, also comes under fire for her initial announcement of the end of free movement from 31 October, followed by a swift U-turn when the UK parliament was prorogued and the required legislation could not be passed.
The European parliament’s resolution expresses “grave concern that recent and conflicting announcements by the Home Office in relation to free movement after 31 October 2019 have generated very unhelpful uncertainty for EU citizens resident in the UK, with the risk that those announcements may exacerbate the hostile environment towards them as well as impact negatively on their ability to enforce their rights”.
The parliament also notes the “strong reaction”, including by the courts, to the “decision to prorogue the UK parliament until 14 October, which makes the possibility of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU without an agreement more likely”.
Given the House of Commons vote in support of the Benn bill ensuring Johnson will have to request an extension of the UK’s membership of the EU beyond 31 October if a deal is not agreed, the parliament says it is open for such a Brexit delay if there is to be a general election or second referendum.
Luisa Porritt MEP, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European parliament, said: “The European parliament is right to be deeply concerned about the settled status scheme and its botched implementation.
“EU27 citizens continue to be subject to intolerable uncertainty and face a dismissive attitude from the Home Office. Our European neighbours are rightly outraged at the way the government has disregarded their rights, as well as the application of the rule of law.”