Examination of Witness

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:55 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Professor Smismans:

No, they definitely have not. That is why it is so important that we get the withdrawal agreement or, if there is no withdrawal agreement, that we get a separate citizens’ rights agreement. What we have been asking for is that the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement be ring-fenced and adopted. The withdrawal agreement was agreed between the EU Commission and the UK Government; it did not pass in Parliament, but citizens’ rights were not the debated issue. If the withdrawal agreement fails, it will be because of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and the wider issue of where the future relationship is going, not because of citizens’ rights.

The best way to safeguard our rights is through the withdrawal agreement or, in the event of the failure of the withdrawal agreement, to have a separate citizens’ rights agreement under article 50. That would mean that British citizens in the European Union were protected at a supranational level; they would not depend on 27 national rules, in the same way that we do not depend just on the UK. It is a kind of balancing act, in the way that there has been a reciprocal solution between the rights of EU citizens here and British citizens in the EU. That would remain in place for that category of people on both sides. That is the best guarantee.

In any case, issues such as social security co-ordination will require international treaties. You can resolve some issues unilaterally or set out some guarantees in primary legislation, but for the issue of British citizens in the EU, doing that would depend on all the countries at a national level. As we have seen recently, there is not much willingness among European Union member states to let the European Union do that. If there is no agreement, it will mainly be up to national solutions in each country. On social security, you would then have to negotiate agreements between the UK and the 27 countries separately. Surely that would not provide the protection that the withdrawal agreement or a separate citizens’ rights agreement could provide.