EU leaders accused of not protecting citizens’ rights in Brexit deal

Campaigners for the rights of British nationals and EU citizens after Brexit have criticised Donald Tusk and said the deal about to be signed in Brussels leaves them with a bleak future.

In a strongly worded letter they accused Tusk, the European council president, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, of misleading voters by claiming they had reached agreement on citizens’ rights.

“The [European] council has not defended the rights of its citizens, be they British or from the other EU27 countries,” said the letter from the campaign groups the3million and British in Europe, which claim to represent 4.6 million citizens affected by Brexit. “You and the UK have negotiated away some of the most fundamental rights of over 4 million committed Europeans and at the end of the transition we will find ourselves in a far poorer position.”

The groups said a litany of omissions in the withdrawal agreement on citizens’ rights “makes for a bleak, uncertain future”. They urged Tusk, who is meeting EU leaders this week to discuss the Brexit withdrawal agreement, not to sign off on “this wholescale withdrawal of our citizens’ rights”. To do so would be to build a new Europe “on the ashes of our rights”, they said.

The campaign groups fired off their missive on Wednesday in response to a letter Tusk wrote to members of the European council on Tuesday claiming he had “achieved success when it comes to citizens’ rights”. They said: “This is simply not the case.”

More than a dozen British MEPs have written to the Brexit secretary, David Davis, questioning the government’s commitment to UK citizens in Europe.

“As UK MEPs we are deeply worried about what will happen to British citizens living in EU27 member states once we leave the EU,” said the letter, signed by 13 MEPS including the Conservative Charles Tannock, the SNP’s Alyn Smith, Labour’s Seb Dance and Richard Corbett and the Green party’s Jean Lambert.

Citizens’ groups have become increasingly incensed by repeated claims by politicians on both sides of the Channel that their rights have been guaranteed post-Brexit. On the contrary, as the deal stands they will be worse off, they say. Britons in Europe are deeply concerned that they will be “landlocked” after Brexit, unable to travel to another EU country for business or pleasure because their freedom of movement rights will be wiped out.

They are the only group that will be affected in this way as EU citizens in the UK continue to have free movement by virtue of their EU nationality. As it stands, Britons’ professional qualifications will not be recognised anywhere outside the country of their residence and they will be unable to offer their services in another EU country or to people in another country.

This will affect professionals including IT contractors, bankers, lawyers and architects, as well as people working in engineering, pharmaceuticals, hospitality, the media and the arts.

EU citizens in the UK list four key areas of concern in the letter to Tusk. They repeat their complaint that the Home Office cannot be trusted to administrate the new “settled status” given its historical error rate and mistaken threats to deport EU citizens last year. They protest that the proposed system of arbitration “remains particularly weak” and needs to be reviewed urgently by negotiators.

“Many of us will fall foul of the system,” they said. And without legal aid or access to the data the Home Office holds on them, they will be unable to defend their rights, they argue.

The letter urged Tusk to think again, telling him officials had a choice: EU member states “can still choose not to penalise” EU citizens who had done nothing more than exercise their free movement rights.