The British government expressed similar sentiment, unveiling last month what Prime Minister Theresa May called a “fair and serious” proposal for the country’s EU citizens post-Brexit. Under the proposal, these individuals would be guaranteed new rights under U.K. law, most notable of which is the ability to earn “settled status” after completing five years of U.K. residence, giving those who qualify access to public funds and services, as well as the option to apply for U.K. citizenship. This plan would only apply to EU nationals living in the U.K. prior to a yet to be determined cut-off date between March 29, the day the U.K. formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the process of withdrawal from the bloc, and the day Britain formally leaves.
The U.K. proposal is contingent on reciprocal rights for Britons living within the EU, but EU leaders say the U.K.’s guarantees fall short of those proposed by the EU for British nationals. Unlike the EU proposal that allows Britons in Europe to bring their family members in perpetuity, the British proposal would make it so that EU citizens could no longer bring their non-EU family members to the U.K. unless they meet a minimum income threshold (though British citizens already adhere to this requirement, EU nationals previously enjoyed fewer restrictions). Additionally, while the EU proposal guarantees the existing rules that protect Britons’ access to benefits, healthcare, and education, the U.K. proposal provides no such guarantees.
These discrepancies prompted Barnier to call on the U.K. to offer “more ambition, clarity, and guarantees.” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, took the criticism one step further, dubbing the U.K. proposal a “damp squib” that reduces Europeans to “the status of ‘third-country nationals’ in the U.K., with fewer rights than British citizens are offered throughout the EU.”
Kenan Hadzimusic, a senior manager at the European Citizens Action Service (ECAS), a Brussels-based NGO focusing on citizens’ rights, told me the concerns both U.K. and EU citizens have stem from a lack of clarity over how their rights may be affected once the Brexit deal is done. Indeed, a June study by the ECAS found that freedom of movement stood as the primary concern for both groups of people. When analyzed individually, however, Britons were found to be most concerned with losing their European citizenship, whereas EU citizens were most concerned with uncertainty about the future, xenophobia, and discrimination.
“What will be much fairer and easier would be to in fact look at those rights that [EU citizens] have acquired and keep them, and have a reciprocal solution for the U.K. citizens living in other countries of the EU,” Hadzimusic said. “That is what the European Union Commission negotiating team is also proposing.” These issues, he said, go beyond freedom of movement within the continent. “It will have an affect on people’s lives and their professional career, possibilities to study or not in other countries, to live with their spouses.”