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Questions on Free Movement, Red Tape Linger in Brexit Citizens' Deal

Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled an agreement earlier on the Irish border, citizens' rights and the Brexit bill, opening the way for talks on trade and a transition period.

Reuters

Updated:December 8, 2017, 8:53 PM IST
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Questions on Free Movement, Red Tape Linger in Brexit Citizens' Deal
An Anti-Brexit protestor waves EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain December 5, 2017. Image: Reuters
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London: Britain's agreement with the European Union over key Brexit terms still leaves major issues like freedom of movement undecided, some campaigners said on Friday.

Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled an agreement earlier on the Irish border, citizens' rights and the Brexit bill, opening the way for talks on trade and a transition period.

While the status of the EU's only land border with the United Kingdom was perhaps the thorniest issue, the deal safeguarding the rights of 3 million EU citizens in Britain and around 1.2 million Britons living elsewhere in the EU will affect households across the continent.

London and Brussels agreed to offer equal treatment in social security, health care, employment and education and to let British judges ask the European Court of Justice to weigh in when necessary for eight years after Brexit.

But Jane Golding, who heads British in Europe, a coalition of 10 citizens' groups representing around 35,000 Britons living in the rest of the bloc, said fundamental issues had not been dealt with.

"The really big one is free movement, and we are worried that that is just simply going to be deferred until the next phase," Golding, a Briton who has lived in Berlin for nine years, told Reuters.

"In future, if you don't have the right of free movement, the right to go and work and live in those other countries and have your qualifications recognised in those other countries, you could be passed up for those opportunities, and that's going to impact your career," she said.

EU and British officials say that British citizens on the continent will, as things stand, only have rights in the member state they are living in on the day of Brexit.

However, the two sides are prepared to negotiate further on this next year.

Britain, for example, had earlier offered a lifetime guarantee of residence rights but that is, for the time being, off the table, with people losing those rights if they leave the country for five years. However, that is an area where both sides may continue to look for tradeoffs.

BUREAUCRACY

Getting a deal that works is crucial to both Britain, the world's sixth-largest economy, and the EU, the world's biggest trading bloc.

Britons hold positions in major businesses across the continent and take advantage of overseas study schemes such as Erasmus, while tens of thousands of elderly people rely on EU agreements for access to public services and their pensions in countries such as Spain.

EU citizens fill key roles in Britain's state-run health service, construction sector and many professional jobs, with British business leaders keen to retain unfettered access to the continent's labour market.

Nicolas Hatton, co-chair of campaign group the3million, said he was unhappy that the deal backed Britain's stance of making EU citizens apply to remain in the country.

"All EU citizens here will need to apply to stay, while so far we were granted residents' rights," he told Reuters.

"This application process will be made with the Home Office and with the current hostile environment policy ... We are very worried. There will be errors, there will be mistakes, people will be affected by these mistakes," he said.

Responding to fears of overly bureaucratic barriers, Friday's joint report from the negotiators emphasised that the process for applying to remain will be as transparent and easy as possible.

"Application forms will be short, simple, user-friendly and adjusted to the context of the Withdrawal Agreement," it reads.

But Britons in the EU face uncertainty as to what the process may involve in different member states, while Europeans in Britain have complained about the need to fill in an 85-page application form for residency and to produce tax returns and provide details of their movements over the last five years.

At an early morning media conference in Brussels, May offered reassurance to Europeans: "They will be able to go on living their lives as before," she said.

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