Many of the responses we received to our Dear Citizens initiative focused on one of the biggest issues facing the European Union right now, Brexit. Citizens expressed their concerns on a number of different topics ranging from trade and travel, to peace in Northern Ireland and protecting the rights of EU citizens in Britain post Brexit. Here we respond to some of these concerns.
Tomas from Great Britain reflected on the impact the EU has had on Britain: "I am saddened by my country's decision to leave the EU but I would like to thank the EU for everything they have done for everyday people like me, for making many poor countries prosperous and for giving many countries the chance to invest, improve their infrastructure and the everyday lives of its citizens.”
There is no doubt in our minds that Britain’s exit from the European Union is not good for either Britain or the European Union. Britain has benefited greatly from its membership of the EU: access to the Single Market has allowed British citizens the freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe; it has enhanced Britain’s trading power by allowing it to export goods tariff-free to continental Europe and to one of its biggest trading partners, Ireland; its citizens have benefited from EU regulations which protect consumers' rights, workers’ rights and the environment; British students have benefited from the Erasmus programme; and EU membership has provided cross-country cooperation in the fight against crime, cyberattacks and terrorism.
And yet we have to accept that the British people voted for Brexit: the challenge we now face is ensuring we continue to develop and strengthen the European Union, whilst maintaining a close and cooperative relationship with Great Britain.
Ryan shared his concerns with us about maintaining peace in Northern Ireland: “I’m fearful for the Northern Ireland peace process, I have two little girls and I want them to grow up in a Europe that is United and not at war with itself over race or religion. If you’re serious about us all being in this together as a family, then I hope someone steps to address these issues”.
The Northern Ireland problem is indeed one of the most important issues to be resolved through these Brexit negotiations; accordingly, preventing a hard border and protecting the peace process is one the EU’s top three negotiating priorities.
In fact, at the EU Council summit in April, the EU27 countries unanimously adopted a resolution from Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny stipulating that if at any point in the future Northern Ireland joins the Republic of Ireland, the entire territory of Northern Ireland will automatically become a member of the EU.
Significantly Britain, Ireland and the EU have stated emphatically that they have no desire to impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And we as the EPP family will work together to ensure that the border remains "frictionless and seamless." Both of these priorities, along with maintaining the common travel area between Britain and Ireland, will help preserve peace in Northern Ireland. As the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said when addressing the Irish parliament in May, "nothing should put peace at risk."
Phil from Belgium wrote to us and said, ”Brexit must mean Brexit. It’s either all in our all out. If it’s all out the EU must consider repatriation UK citizens and of EU workers in the UK”. On this point, however, we disagree. There are around 3.2 million non-British EU citizens living in the UK at present, nearly half of whom are either Polish or Irish, and over 600,000 of whom are children. There are moreover around 1.2 million UK citizens living throughout the EU, in many different Member States.
For either the EU or UK to repatriate these citizens would be impractical, legally dubious and would be devastating for the millions of people affected. This is why we are working to find a solution to this problem – a solution which protects the right of both categories of citizens, which does not split up families and which affords each citizen access to basic healthcare and social welfare.
The EU negotiation team's proposal would allow both British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection as they currently enjoy under European law. All rights acquired before the date of withdrawal will be directly enforceable, including life-long protection, full reciprocity and equal treatment. This is what we believe is right and fair, and this is what we will continue to advocate on behalf of EU citizens in the UK.