Brussels pushes back on a unanimous House of Commons request for UK-EU commitment to protect expats in any Brexit scenario.
The European Commission has rejected a call for the UK and EU to make a joint commitment to safeguard citizens’ rights ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit.
Brussels dismissed a proposal for a “mini-deal” on the issue to be carved out of Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, despite a unanimous House of Commons request for such an accord.
On Wednesday night, MPs backed a demand for Mrs May to “seek at the earliest opportunity” a UK-EU commitment to adopt and implement those agreements on citizens’ rights that are within her Brexit deal, before the UK’s exit.
The Commons called for this to happen “whatever the outcome of negotiations” on other aspects of the prime minister’s Brexit deal, including in the event of no-deal departure.
The cross-party proposal, approved unopposed by MPs, was spearheaded by Conservative MP Alberto Costa, who saw his demand accepted by the government despite being forced to resign as a parliamentary aide for tabling the initiative in the first place.
However, the European Commission pushed back against the demand on Thursday.
“We will not negotiate mini-deals because negotiating such a mini-deal outside the withdrawal agreement would imply that the negotiations have failed.”
However, Ms Andreeva stressed how the commission “has consistently made clear that the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU are our top priority”.
She added: “They should not pay the price for Brexit and the commission has called on member states to take a generous approach to the UK nationals who are already resident in their territory.”
In the event of no-deal Brexit, the commission has “proposed a number of contingency measures specifically to address citizens’ rights”, Ms Andreeva said.
This includes making UK citizens exempt from the need to have a short-term visa to visit EU countries, so long as the UK reciprocates.
Despite the commission’s stance, Mr Costa has aimed his request at EU member states rather than Brussels officials.
He is seeking an urgent meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk, who represents EU heads of government, following MPs backing for his proposal.
Mr Costa told Sky News: “It is ultimately not the commission’s remit to deliberate on these matters, instead the sentiments outlined in the Costa Amendment are aimed at the European Council as they have the legal mandate to change their negotiating guidelines for citizens’ rights.
“Until that takes place, the commission cannot begin to look at ring-fencing reciprocal rights for UK and EU citizens.”
Mrs May has previously guaranteed the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.