LONDON — The EU has accused the UK of failing to comply with its post-Brexit obligations to EU nationals in Britain.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met in Brussels on Monday for the ninth meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, a regular forum to discuss the implementation of the Brexit Divorce Agreement and its Northern Ireland Protocol.
The meeting ended with the Commission accusing Britain of breaching the Withdrawal Agreement with its treatment of EU nationals, and without agreement on any of the outstanding post-Brexit differences over the trade rules of North Ireland.
Speaking at a press conference, Šefčovič said he regretted the UK’s stance on citizens’ rights and said talks on Irish Sea trade rules needed more time, pointing out that Monday’s meeting resulted in “neither a breakthrough nor a break”.
Under the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), EU citizens who moved to Britain before Brexit and lived in the country for less than five years can be granted pre-settled status , allowing them to preserve their rights to live, work and access the British public. services.
But the EU fought for many months against the UK’s decision to require this group to reapply within five years of being granted pre-settled status. If they fail to do so, the Home Office will consider them to be illegally present in the UK and no longer entitled to exercise their residence rights. According to the Commission, approximately 2 million EU citizens could be affected by this requirement.
Šefcovič too accused the UK of dividing EU citizens into two cohorts – indistinguishable on the basis of their EUSS status – depending on whether or not they had private health insurance during periods of their residence when they were economically inactive, among other factors. London is of the opinion that they are being more generous with EU nationals than required by the Withdrawal Agreement.
“I must have regretted the UK’s position on these two issues so far and will consider our next steps,” he said. “We are talking about millions of people, their livelihoods, their families, their individual destinies and I think we are both committed to doing the best we can for UK nationals in the EU and citizens of the EU staying in the UK. ”
Šefčovič added that he believed an “amicable solution” to these issues could still be found through the EU-UK specialist committee on citizens’ rights. It is not the first time that the EU has raised these issues in joint committee meetings, but an EU official said the Commission will now consider whether to launch consultations on citizens’ rights , and could ultimately trigger an arbitration process.
Brussels has yet to decide on the timing of any action, but the official said the Commission may not await the outcome of the judicial review process on the second application requirement, launched in December by the Independent Supervisory Authority (IMA), a body which calls for ensuring that the rights of EU citizens who settled in the UK before Brexit are respected.
A British official said the EU-UK relationship on citizens’ rights was “working well” despite “starting problems” on both sides.
London also raised three issues of concern: the lack of an adequate appeals process in some EU countries for Britons who are denied residency status; problems with documents proving people’s right to be from other countries; and people are being asked to prove things they shouldn’t have to do to access their rights. The EU has promised to make progress in these areas.
“The vast majority of people, whether European in the UK or British in EU member states, have had their status confirmed,” the official said. “But this is obviously an incredibly sensitive and important area and we’re making it clear what needs to happen to those who face problems.”
More time needed
Since the start of the year, the EU and the UK have sought to intensify technical discussions on easing the burden on Northern Irish citizens and businesses from new post-Brexit trade rules. But they failed to reach a partial agreement on customs formalities or the supply of medicines from Britain to Northern Ireland before the start of the campaign for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. North, as they had hoped.
Šefčovič, however, tried to strike a positive tone, praising Britain for starting to give the EU access to its customs databases after keeping EU officials waiting for more than a month. a year.
An EU official said there had been “incremental” progress on customs facilitation, including the accuracy of data collected by the UK, and on guarantees demanded by Brussels in return for less than formalities. However, there is no agreement on the number of data fields in a customs declaration, with Brussels proposing a reduction from 80 to 30 and London deeming the offer insufficient.
Progress on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls on agri-food products and live animals transported from Britain to Northern Ireland will not be unlocked until Britain accepts that it must apply the standards it agreed to under the Northern Ireland protocol, the EU official said.
The UK, meanwhile, continues to accuse the Commission of obsessing over what-if scenarios it says have a very low probability of happening – such as illicit English olive oil entering the market. unique from the EU via Northern Ireland unless it bears a customs code.
Šefčovič told reporters he considered the row over Britain’s supply of medicines to Northern Ireland to have been “resolved”, although that was yet to be confirmed by the UK government. Officials will “redouble” their efforts in the coming weeks to find practical solutions to their outstanding differences over customs requirements and SPS controls, he added.
The talks, however, are expected to enter a calmer phase so as not to interfere in the elections in Northern Ireland, scheduled for May 5. Earlier this month the regional executive collapsed after the withdrawal of Northern Ireland’s main unionist party, the Democratic Unionists. their prime minister on opposition to the protocol.
In a joint statement, Truss and Šefčovič expressed the “continued determination of both parties to ensure that outstanding issues under the protocol are resolved and that lasting solutions are found for the benefit of citizens, businesses and stability in Northern Ireland”.
Leonie Kijewski contributed reporting from Brussels.
This article has been updated.