My generation’s world changed with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. A whole world of life choices and opportunities opened to us. In 2004 as I entered the European Parliament I never imagined that one day I would be tasked to find answers to challenges which now potentially remove the most basic of rights from fellow citizens.
This is already one of the most contentious matters in the Brexit negotiations - that of citizens’ rights - which Brussels has already said is ’the first priority’ in divorce talks.
European Council president, Donald Tusk, has said, ’We need real guarantees for our people who live, work and study in the UK, and the same goes for Brits,’ with Brexit Secretary, David Davis, confirming that it would in fact be prioritised.
It is an issue that will affect millions of people across Europe, some 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and roughly 1.2 million British nationals on the continent, so it is vital that we get this right.
The recent announcement by the UK Government on the right of EU citizens to gain ‘settled status’ or residency in the UK, raises the question of which Court will have jurisdiction in cases of disputes. A governmental position paper has made the eventual, complete autonomy from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) a red-line, which would put both sides at loggerheads, with Brussels demanding that the court must have the final say to resolve post-Brexit disputes on issues, such as the rights of EU citizens who are UK based.
Theoretically, this could mean the Luxembourg based court could have a hand in British legal matters for decades to come, something hard-line Brexiteers would overwhelmingly oppose.
It seems that unless there is an agreement otherwise and this red-line is upheld by the government, domestic immigration law would apply. If this is to be the case, then some sort of arbitration method could be set up, which would include lawyers from the UK and EU, in order to settle any kind of dispute.
The notion of ‘acquired rights’ may also be raised in negotiations and how any ‘acquired rights’ may continue following Brexit. Some argue that once a citizen has exercised their EU right to freedom of movement, or bought a property, for example, their rights should be protected post-Brexit. The key issue may therefore be which rights are deemed to be ‘acquired rights’ post Brexit, and whether a property purchase would be deemed more relevant than having worked or had access to healthcare, for example. However, Mr Davis, has recently outlined that the UK Government intends to continue paying for British citizens living in EU Member States to be able to access healthcare.
Another prickly area is likely to be that of voting rights. The majority of the 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK do not currently have the right to vote in national elections - Irish citizens being an exception to this. Some Commonwealth citizens based in Britain, Indian & Pakistani, for example, do in fact retain the ability to vote at general elections too.
A recent survey has shown that three-quarters of the British public are in favour of allowing EU citizens to continue voting in local elections. Whether this right will be extended to general elections is still up for debate.
What is most important though - like every issue within the negotiation process - is that we get this right. We are not just talking about a simple policy within a manifesto that can be reversed after another election. The outcome of the negotiations will have an effect on our lives for years to come. People’s way of life are up for debate and when the stakes are this high every detail is key.