FIVE million EU and British citizens would lose all existing EU rights if the UK can’t agree a final Brexit deal, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told campaigners.
But Barnier told representatives from the British In Europe coalition that securing a deal on the rights of Brits living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK was his ‘number-one priority’.
A final Brexit deal needed to be reached within 16 months so the European Parliament had time to approve a final bill, he said.
Campaigners, including The Guardian journalist and author Giles Tremlett, who met Barnier last week, are now calling on the UK to secure an agreement ringfencing citizens’ rights regardless of the final outcome of its overall Brexit deal.
“Uncertainty and limbo remain,” Madrid-based Tremlett told the Olive Press.
“If what people call the falling-off-the-edge-of-the-cliff scenario happens – in other words they get to the end of the negotiations and they can’t agree – then we will also fall off the edge of the cliff and become foreigners in the way – for example – an American or an Australian or a Nigerian in is.
“Now the campaign is to get the UK to ask for an agreement on citizens’ rights of the five million to be ringfenced even if there is no final deal – in other words to change Barnier’s mind.”
He added: “Those of us who hoped putting citizens first meant a watertight deal whatever else happened have had our hopes dashed.
“We were hoping that the uncertainty was over, but we were wrong. We must now all apply pressure to our parliament and to MPs to change Barnier’s stance.”
During the 40-minute meeting, Barnier said he hoped to secure ‘almost all’ the rights of the five million and that he would hold regular roundtable meetings with the coalition group from now on.
Finalising the details of Britain’s Brexit bill payment and the Northern Ireland border were next on his list of priorities.
Members of Brexit Secretary David Davis’s Department For Exiting The EU (DEXEU) have now agreed to meet with British In Europe next week ‘after months of nagging’, said Tremlett.
“It seems the timing is not a coincidence. It must have been because Barnier very generously agreed to meet us,” he said.
“It has taken that for the UK government to get interested. We even had campaigners who had worked with David Davis in the Conservative Party and knew him personally and he still wasn’t interested.”
Tremlett is currently campaigning for British expats living in Spain to be granted dual nationality.
He is set to hand deliver a letter to the Spanish government this week calling for a meeting with British-based campaign group Espanoles en El Reino Unido and expats in Spain.
“The important thing is to stand as one and not be divided by the negotiators. Whatever happens to the Spanish in Britain will happen to the British in Spain,” he said.