Expat rights put at top of Brexit agenda

Until agreement has been reached in three key areas – country borders, the rights of EU expatriates and the UK’s EU 'divorce bill' – no Brexit trade talks can commence, warns Brussels chief negotiator.

Expat rights put at top of Brexit agenda
There will be no Brexit trade talks between the UK and European Union until agreement has been reached in three key areas, including the future of expatriates in the bloc, Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier said.

Three key areas to be discussed

Presenting the European Commission’s negotiating directive in Belgium, the bloc's chief negotiator said the first phase of talks would concentrate solely on borders – most particularly the one between Northern Ireland and the Republic – the rights of EU expats, and the 'divorce bill' Britain would have to pay on leaving.That bill, which reflects the UK's contributions to existing EU budgets and schemes, could be as high as 100 billion euros, according to a new analysis by the Financial Times. But David Davis, Britain's Brexit minister, immediately took to the airwaves to reject any notion the country would pay such a hefty amount.

Divorce bill: not a punishment

At his press conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier said the divorce bill did not represent punishment for the UK for leaving but, rather, simply a “settling of accounts”. But he added, “Some have created the illusion that Brexit will have no material impact on our lives and that it will be painless. This is not the case. We need sound solutions, we need legal precision and this will take time.“I can't understand why here and there I hear mentions of punishment (about) the exit bill, the Brexit bill. That is not the case. Commitments have been made and these commitments have to be honoured – these responsibilities have to be honoured.”On his priorities for the first phase of the Brexit negotiations, Mr Barnier said, “The UK must put a great deal of energy and effort into these three issues over the next weeks and months and that will increase the chances of making a deal.”

Complication over protection of expat's rights

But the complications over the issues were illustrated later in the press conference when Mr Barnier said that “quite clearly” the rights of the three million EU expats in the UK would be protected by European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings “well after the date of the withdrawal of the UK”. Yet the British government is insistent that withdrawal from the EU will coincide with the ending of ECJ jurisdiction.Similarly, on the knotty question of the Irish border, UK negotiators question how the EU can insist on the continued free movement of people and goods across the border without Brussels simultaneously entering into negotiations on how trade and immigration are going to be handled. 
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On the divorce bill, Mr Barnier said the European Commission would come up with an “incontestable” figure that would not only include UK commitments to fund the EU's 2014-2020 budget, but also EU support programmes for countries such as Turkey and the Ukraine. He added there would be “explosive” consequences if Britain did not pay up in full.But in TV and radio interviews, Mr Davis said that, while the UK would pay what was legally due according to its existing rights and obligations, he added flatly, “We will not be paying 100 billion euros.”He continued, “We are not supplicants. This is a negotiation. They lay down what they want and we lay down what we want.”Mr Davis also said that, despite the current “rough and tumble” in the opening manoeuvres before the Brexit negotiations began in earnest, he believed a “generous settlement” could be reached over the status of EU nationals living in the UK and Britons living on the continent, which would guarantee “pretty much exactly” the same rights they enjoy at the moment.For related news and features, visit our Brexit section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit

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