‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – a mantra jeopardizing the rights of 4.5 million European citizens

Perhaps the most urgent issues in the upcoming Brexit negotiations are the future residency rights of the approximately 3.3 million EU citizens in the UK, and of the 1.2 million UK citizens elsewhere in the EU. Both Theresa May, and many of the EU27 leaders, have advocated an early reciprocal agreement on this issue; the security of millions of ordinary citizens is at stake, and they have already suffered a year of uncertainty. The ideal solution would perhaps have been for the UK government to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU27 citizens already in the UK, soon after the referendum, on the understanding that the EU27 would reciprocate – and then for the EU27 to reciprocate, securing a cast-iron agreement on this issue before negotiations on tougher issues got underway. Sadly, neither side has yet given such a guarantee, either due to lack of confidence that the other side would reciprocate, or (at worst) because they wish to use the issue of citizens rights’ as a bargaining chip later on to exact concessions on other issues.

The European Council’s negotiating guidelines, published on Saturday, appear to place the future of these 4.5 million citizens in greater jeopardy.


Core Principle 2 of these negotiating guidelines states “In accordance with the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, individual items cannot be settled separately.” As stated, this means that any initial agreement on future residency rights for citizens would be rendered invalid if other, more contentious issues (such as the ‘divorce bill’) prevent a final agreement from being reached by mid-2019, leaving 4.5 million citizens at risk of losing their residency rights.

If it truly cares about ordinary citizens, the European Council should answer the pleas of EU citizens’ campaign groups such as ‘The 3 Million’ to amend Core Principle 2, and agree to strike an early, cast-iron agreement on citizens’ residency rights, ring-fenced from the rest of the negotiations. Legal experts have assured The 3 Million that such a ring-fencing is legally possible. Short of immediate unilateral guarantees from both sides (which, sadly, do not appear to be forthcoming), an early, ring-fenced agreement on this is the only moral course of action, for both the UK government and the EU27.

The ‘all or nothing’ approach is reckless in the extreme, given the uncertainty over whether a final agreement will be reached. It is also deeply wrong. While this may not have been the intention, it perpetuates the treatment of 4.5 million human beings as pawns in the negotiations.


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