Following the seventh round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels in August, there’s been little to report and no progress. The main issues preventing agreement remain the same – fisheries, a level playing field and state aid. The only change is in the amount of time remaining to resolve those issues, and the political rhetoric.
French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, recently said that the UK government was deliberately stalling the negotiations with its “intransigent and unrealistic attitude”. Downing Street responded by saying that the EU was “making it unnecessarily difficult” for post-Brexit trade talks to progress. A source close to lead negotiator, David Frost, said that he had “made clear to Barnier that as things stand, he would have to recommend to Boris that we go for no deal”.
With the endless chest-thumping and finger-pointing, it’s unsurprising that Brits throughout Europe are again feeling anxious about their futures. Uncertainty is always unsettling, but there is a familiarity to the situation we find ourselves in. In many respects, we’ve been here before.
In 2019, we were worried about the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal, no rights and no benefits. Thankfully, that worst-case scenario was narrowly avoided at the 11th hour, but the talk of no deal has returned.
This time around, we do have a deal – the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) – that protects many, if not all, of our treasured rights. Yet there’s still the threat of failing to agree a trade deal. According to Michel Barnier, a negotiated deal is becoming “unlikely”, thanks to the UK government’s unwillingness to compromise.
EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier leaves with European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie in Brussels on Aug 21st. Photo: AFP
Unsurprisingly, the idea of losing EU citizenship rights stirs anger, sadness and fear in British citizens in Spain. We moved here in good faith, secure in the knowledge – or so we thought – that our rights would apply for life. We’re more familiar with those rights now than ever before, because many of them are being taken away. We took the benefits of EU membership for granted: not anymore.
However, one thing surely causes more anxiety than the loss of rights already removed, and that’s the fear of losing the rights already secured by the Withdrawal Agreement.
For some people, it’s a matter of trust. The British government has done little to instil any confidence throughout the Brexit and Covid crises. Promises have been broken, policies muddled, and messages confused. Not to mention, the government has performed enough U-turns to make us dizzy.
Furthermore, some Conservatives have been vocal about their disdain for the contents of the WA, despite having voted for it. At the time, they possibly feared that their beloved Brexit was slipping away and voted simply to ensure that Britain left the EU in January. Late in the day, some are starting to read the small print. It’s understandable, therefore, that many people believe the UK government won’t honour the provisions, or spirit, of the WA.
As we are talking about an international treaty, the ramifications would be serious for a country that is apparently keen to build new trading partnerships with other nations. What country would trust any government that reneged on its international treaty commitments?
From our perspective, the UK government isn’t responsible for ensuring that our WA rights are protected. That responsibility falls on Spain. We live here, we have rights here, and those rights are in the safe hands of Spanish authorities. Spain is a proud member of the EU and will defend the international treaty with ‘gusto’.
After further emergency talks this week, Barnier said he was “worried and disappointed” that no progress had been made, but not, I suspect, surprised. We know how he feels. Let’s hope that some progress can be made when formal talks recommence shortly. Leaving the EU without an agreement on a future trading relationship – preferably a close one – would be reckless in the extreme.
Whether or not the EU and the UK eventually come to an agreement on trade, I’m not expecting to gain any further citizens’ rights. But I’m not expecting to lose any more either.
Regardless of whether you trust the UK government, the Spanish government has repeatedly proved its commitment to British residents. It won’t fail us now, in our hour of need.
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain