Brexit: Confusion as Article 32 regulating free movement for British citizens vanishes from latest agreement

Jon Stone

The draft Brexit agreement struck between Britain and the EU on Monday leaves Brits who have made their lives on the continent with “no more certainty” about what will happen to them after the UK leaves, MEPs and citizens’ groups have warned.

Chief amongst the mysteries of the deal is the disappearance of the so-called “Article 32”, which in previous drafts regulated the free movement of British citizens living in Europe after Brexit. The entire article is missing from the text, which goes straight from Article 31 to Article 33.

MEPs from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru have written to Brexit Secretary David Davis for clarification about the disappearance of the free movement clause, while citizens’ group British in Europe said the agreed text did not provide “legal certainty” for them.

“As UK MEPs we are deeply worried about what will happen to British citizens living in EU27 member states once we leave the EU,” a copy of the letter from MEPs to Mr Davis seen by The Independent says.

“Up until today, Article 32 of the draft withdrawal agreement stated that the freedom of movement rights of UK citizens and their families will cease to exist. However we noticed that Article 32 has suddenly vanished from the latest text!

“We would like clarification of what this removal of Article 32 means. Will UK citizens who already live in the EU27 after the end of the transition period be able to continue to move freely across the member states?”

A source familiar with the negotiations said the clause was deemed unnecessary as it was only intended clarify other parts of the agreement. Another source said UK citizens living abroad would be able to move to other countries during the transition period as part of the reciprocal deal. Mr Davis said on Monday that the agreement had delivered on “our commitment to provide certainty to citizens”.

The MEPs also say that the mantra “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” – regularly repeated by Michel Barnier – should not apply to citizens’ rights in order to minimise the uncertainty citizens face.

Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe said: “Contrary to what David Davis and Michel Barnier are saying, this document provides no more certainty for the 1.2 million British people living in the EU 27, EEA and Switzerland than they had last week.

“Not only does the text look as though it has been rushed out under pressure but in his statement, Mr Barnier once again said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, meaning there will not be legal certainty for the 4.6 million people most directly affected by Brexit until the agreement is finally signed off.

The letter sent by MEPs to David Davis

“Furthermore, it seems that Article 32 – which covered restrictions to our future cross border working rights and free movement – has now vanished. And yet, it is still referred to in other parts of the text.”

Negotiators have been trying to secure British people already living in Europe at the point of Brexit a special status to limit disruption to their lives, but the details of this status are far from clear, campaigners say.

It is understood that negotiators will consider the issue of further free movement in the upcoming talks on the future trade relationship between Britain and the EU, which are likely to start in April.

The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group said in a separate statement on Monday after the publication of the draft that it welcomed “the removal of Article 32, which limits the right of onward movement for UK citizens in the EU27”. They also said they “will continue to push for these rights of UK citizens to be able to move freely within the EU 27”.

Commenting on Tuesday’s letter, Tom Brake, the Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesperson, said citizens’ rights “must be ring-fenced now”, arguing it was the “only way to guarantee peace of mind for millions of people who made their lives in another EU country”.

The full list of MEPs to sign the letter to Mr Davis: Charles Tannock MEP (Conservative), Alyn Smith MEP (SNP), Richard Corbett MEP (Labour), Catherine Bearder MEP (Liberal Democrat), Seb Dance MEP (Labour), Jean Lambert MEP (Green), Julie Girling MEP (Conservative), Derek Vaughan MEP (Labour), Mary Honeyball MEP (Labour), Jude Kirton-Darling MEP (Labour), Keith Taylor MEP (Green), Julie Ward MEP (Labour), Molly Scott Cato (Green), Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru), and Richard Ashworth (Conservative).