Britain’s hopes of securing the continued right of a million British citizens currently in Europe to live anywhere in the EU after Brexit is being thwarted by the bloc’s refusal to engage with proposals from London, according to sources close to the negotiations.
The British government has called on the EU publicly and privately to guarantee onward movement rights, which would allow British nationals living in one country to move to any other after Brexit.
The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has suggested that in return the 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK could have an indefinite right of return, should they ever move to another country. His proposal was not part of the UK’s opening position paper on citizens’ rights, but British negotiators shifted ground in an effort to reach an agreement.
The British negotiating team made the offer of a trade-off during a week of talks at the end of September, after some discussion of the topic in earlier rounds. Davis raised the issue publicly during a joint press conference with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, on 28 September.
It is understood, however, that there has been no further movement in this week’s talks in Brussels, to the frustration of the British team.
Davis gave a hint of his irritation during a press conference in Brussels on Thursday to mark the end of the October round of negotiations, when he told reporters: “We look forward to hearing the European Union’s response to this.”
Barnier responded: “That question remains on the table and we are willing to discuss it at the appropriate time.”
One source said Barnier had personally appeared open to agreement, but that he was being boxed in by what was described as a lack of flexibility by the EU27, who appeared unable to decide whether such a compromise was acceptable.
The difficulties that have arisen on the issue of onward movement are said to symptomatic of the fact that the article 50 guidelines EU leaders agreed in April have put an overly tight leash on Barnier. Theresa May has repeatedly called for greater creativity from the EU.
During Thursday’s press conference Davis also called for the European council to adapt Barnier’s mandate to allow the two sides to make progress. “We don’t see the need to change the mandate at the moment. The first phase has not closed. It’s not a blow to Britain, it’s just the state of play,” the EU source said.
A spokesman for the European commission declined to comment.
Jane Golding, the Berlin-based chair of British in Europe, who has been championing the cause of UK citizens who live in the EU, said the issue was extremely important for the livelihoods of those she represents, although she said she recognised that the EU needed time to respond.
“A lot of people do cross-border work, who may need to move in the future due to work, and it is not just important to us but for EU nationals in the UK,” she said.
“We were told by both sides that we would be able to continue our lives as if Brexit had never happened. This is why we are campaigning for citizens’ rights to be ring-fenced from the rest of the talks.”
On Thursday, Barnier said he would not be able to tell the European council summit next week that sufficient progress had been made on the opening withdrawal issues, including citizens’ rights.