EU and UK reach initial agreement on citizens’ rights, no Irish border and divorce settlement

The groundbreaking agreement follows an intense 24 hours of negotiations and includes major breakthroughs on citizenship rights and the Irish-Northern Irish border issue. Most of all, it rebuilds confidence in the negotiations.

EU and UK reach initial agreement on citizens' rights, no Irish border and divorce settlement
British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker address a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on December 8. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

A jointly-authored document released on Friday December 8th highlights a slate of breakthroughs in what appeared very unlikely just over a week ago.

“Both Parties have reached agreement in principle across the following three areas under consideration in the first phase of negotiations, on which further detail is set out in this report: a. protecting the rights of Union citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the Union; b. the framework for addressing the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland; and c. the financial settlement,” states the communiqué.

The agreement pledges to protect the rights of the 1.2 million British citizens living in the EU and the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Good news potentially too for the 27,000-30,000 Brits living in Italy. 

“The overall objective of the Withdrawal Agreement with respect to citizens' rights is to provide reciprocal protection for Union and UK citizens, to enable the effective exercise of rights derived from Union law and based on past life choices, where those citizens have exercised free movement rights by the specified date,” adds the statement

It remains unclear however whether UK citizens, for example, will retain the right to free movement within the EU. Reciprocal recognition of qualifications also remains an outstanding issue. 

“This deal is even worse than we expected,” Jane Golding, chair of the citizens' lobby British in Europe, told The Local in a statement via email.
“After 18 months of wrangling the UK and EU have sold 4.5 million people down the river in a grubby bargain that will have a severe impact on ordinary people’s ability to live their lives as we do now. This is a double disaster for British people living in Europe,” added Golding. 
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On the issue of how Irish-Northern Irish relations might be affected, the document is quite clear. “The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border,” it states, adding that the UK will continue to respect Ireland's EU commitments. Both parties will use the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement as a benchmark for relations. 
The new agreement also practically rules out the potential of tariffs on trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which should quell some of the uncertainty for businesses and citizens both sides of the border. 

The document also establishes a “methodology” for the financial settlement the UK should pay. While the text outlines several criteria for calculating the final sum, no sum is mentioned. The UK will continue to contribute to EU budgets until 2020. 

Talking at a joint press conference with Theresa May on December 8th, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he has formerly “decided to recommend to the European Council that sufficient progress has now been made on the strict terms of the divorce.”

He added he was “confident, sure” that leaders of the EU27 bloc – who still need to endorse the agreement – would accept the terms. 

READ MORE: Milan loses out to Amsterdam to host European Medicines Agency 




Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.