So much has happened in my absence (delivery of the letter setting out the UK's withdrawal from the EU; a formal request for a binding referendum on the question of Scottish independence; Michael Howard declaring war on Spain; and the release of the highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing collaboration between Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker) but it's still the case that nothing has actually materially changed. We're all psychologically preparing for war, of course, and "journalists" across the land are engaged in Top Trumps comparisons of navy fleets but apart from that life goes on and EU rules still apply.
|Oh dear, oh dear. https://archive.fo/bKCSS|
Theresa May's Article 50 letter makes repeated assertions of the high priority that should be given to guarantee the rights of citizens caught up in this whole mess. It makes the point several times but in a very woolly way that is completely devoid of detail.
"The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible."
"There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights."This is one of the few areas of policy deliberately mentioned in the A50 letter yet it is light on detail, to say the least. It merely talks of rights and certainty without laying out the extents of those rights or a preference for the form of the binding agreement that would provide certainty. My view is that this is a huge mistake because it gives the EU an opportunity to bog the UK down in technical detail and to tightly couple those rights to every other decision of the exit deal. This kind of tactic will just frustrate the UK because it only really wants to talk about trade.
I now ask that everyone casts their mind back to the recent past when Westminster voted down a motion to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK. It was cold, it was dark, it was a miserable night and it seemed as if the Tories couldn't sink any lower. Two things emerge from this mind game: a) the Tories can always sink lower (war on Spain!) and b) it's just as well that Parliament voted this down because the motion didn't actually specify the rights that would be protected or provide any mechanism for the long-term protection of those enigmatic rights. At times like these I'm glad there are grown-ups in Brussels who can guide the UK through this messy and complicated process. Let's spend some time looking at this in some more detail.
Imagine a Welshman living in Finland but thinking of returning home in about five years. If it helps let's say that his name is Gwyn and he is a naval architect with particular expertise in solar-powered luxury yachts. As it stands, his right to claim and even move his accumulated Finnish pension is governed by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. This is one of the many agencies granted powers by the European Parliament to provide technical oversight over the function of the European Economic Area. This sounds great so what is the problem? Well, the UK has now begun the process of withdrawing from all European technical agencies. All of the certainties about Gwyn's claim to private and state pensions and his ability to move them to back to the UK are now under threat. None of that can be resolved until the UK and the EU can agree a legal framework that sets out the reciprocal rights and management of pension funds. It's not even clear if that will be part of the divorce discussions. It actually occurs to me that reciprocal pension rights belong to the discussions that come after the UK has completed its withdrawal from the EU. Anyway, that is for the EU to decide because it is their club and they make the rules. I hope I'm giving you the impression that it's all a bit more complicated than that defeated motion in the House of Commons. Guaranteeing the rights of UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK is a task that spans almost every possible area of legislation. I would guess it amounts to tens of thousands of pages of legal documentation accumulated over the last 40 years. If you're still not convinced of the complexity involved let's try another scenario.
|You can decorate your flat exactly how you want in the UK.|
Still not convinced? This time we'll take a look at Bob. Bob has lived in Germany for 30 years, he's married and has adult children living and working in Germany. With all this Brexit madness going on Bob is thinking of applying for German citizenship. This sounds great until you learn that Germany has strict rules on dual citizenship. EU citizens are allowed to have dual passports but Bob will soon cease to be a citizen of the EU. What will happen? Well, let's see if Bob qualifies for dual passport status under German law. No, he doesn't because the UK allows him to renounce his citizenship and because he didn't grow up in Germany. If Bob wants a German passport he will first have to give up his rights to British citizenship, his rights to long-term NHS care, and his rights to a UK state pension. The UK, of course, is relaxed about citizens having multiple passports and I hope it will promote that principle for UK citizens living in the EU. Am I too hopeful?
|For the international man/woman of mystery, a passport collection is a must-have accessory.|
- Guaranteeing the rights of the millions of people caught up in the madness of Brexit will be complicated.
- Legislating for those rights is tightly coupled to the rest of the exit agreement and can't be agreed in isolation.
- Legislating for those rights spans almost the entire breadth of EU legislation.
- Every nation in the EU has its own idiosyncratic way of granting rights to non-EU nationals and will want to apply that to UK nationals so that it may trade for something it wants in return.
- The rights of citizens are so entangled with the rest of the legislative knot and so varied across the EU27 that they can't be granted unilaterally - this requires a reciprocal and binding agreement.
- The rights of UK/EU citizens will likely still face significant uncertainty until the future EU/UK relationship is finalised in the year 2062.
Oh dear, what a mess. The UK Government has shown itself once more to be woefully unprepared for the upcoming talks with the EU. It can't even draw on the resources of all those super-brain MPs because they've proved themselves to be a shower of idiots unable to think beyond their own very generous and most definitely guaranteed pension scheme.
Over and out,
PS I didn't even mention the rights of UK pensioners to treatment in the Spanish health system. They have full rights at the moment that are independent of EU membership but that could easily change if the UK fails to secure the rights of EU nationals to the NHS. If the UK can gets itself on a war footing over Gibraltar then some minor legislative changes to healthcare access is small fry.
PPS Next time a look at what life would be like for an independent Scotland in the EU. Can it get any more thrilling? This is the kind of thing you get from Terry Entoure when he's motoring at full speed. You also get Terry Entoure talking about Terry Entoure in the third person, which is a hallmark of the serious and persistent blogger.