Winter Fuel Payment
Can we Trust HER?
Life before BREXIT
Attempting to use EU Nationals and UK Citizens as a bargaining chip for Brexit negotiations by Mrs Theresa May, was, in our view, a major blunder. Letting it be known at such an early stage as she did, that: ‘we will guarantee the rights of EU Citizens living in the UK, if the EU will guarantee the rights of UK Citizens living in the EU’, did not go down well within the EU-27 Member States.
The early resolution of this issue would have been important, not least for the 1.24 million UK Citizens who have exercised the right to free movement to live and work within the EU, and who are deeply worried about future arrangements for issues such as employment, education, of their children, healthcare and pensions. It’s just as important for the 3.2 million EU Citizens living in the UK, who are worried about their long-term status, for themselves and their families. Many working in areas like financial services, the universities and the science sector, find their employers are concerned about retaining valued staff.
However, that phase is now behind us, but we worry that the way in which Mrs May threw down that challenge might have hardened attitudes within the EU-27.
The EU Position
On Saturday 29 April 2017, the EU-27 took just four minutes to unanimously agree the Guidelines which define the framework for negotiations under Article 50 TEU and set out the overall positions and principles that the Union will pursue throughout the negotiation.
Paragraph 8 of the 28 paragraph document states: 'The right for every EU citizen, and of his or her family members, to live, to work or to study in any EU Member State is a fundamental aspect of the European Union. Along with other rights provided under EU law, it has shaped the lives and choices of millions of people. Agreeing reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens, and their families, affected by the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the Union will be the first priority for the negotiations. Such guarantees must be effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, including the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.'
Such guarantees are vital for us all.
The Guidelines clearly state that we should hold on, for the rest of our lives, to all our acquired individual citizenship rights after Brexit. We believe that a deal on this should be reached as early as possible in the negotiating process. There is, however, one glaring hole in the Guidelines, which means that none of this might happen. We need all sides to agree to ring-fence that deal so that it will continue to stand even if there is no wider agreement covering all other matters, or if this is delayed.
The EU follow-up Documents
3 May 2017 - The EU Commission published the detailed recommendations.
24 May 2017 - The EU Commission published a Working paper "Essential Principles on Citizens' Rights"
12 June 2017 - The EU Commission published a series of ‘position papers’, the most crucial - for us - was the Position paper on "Essential Principles on Citizens' Rights".
Those three sets of documents were placed in the public domain, freely available to everyone - including - the UK Government, and in particular the DExEU - the Department for Exiting the EU.
The UK Response
It was not until 26 June 2017 that the UK Government produced their detailed proposals. Well …. we suppose you have to accept that Theresa May’s attempt to provide a trailer for the big event which took place when she addressed the EU Council over dinner in Brussels four days earlier, on 22 June, as being indicative of the direction of travel.
‘Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU’ is the title of the UK’s 23-page position paper which eventually saw the light of day, 54 days after the EU had first published its detailed proposals.
In the House of Commons, when introducing the safeguarding document, Theresa May described it as a ‘fair and serious’ offer, but she then had the bare-faced cheek to demand that the EU should reciprocate to the proposals, in the interests of UK Citizens in the EU.
So, what to make of the UK ‘offer’?
This first detailed public statement of UK attitudes to the Brexit negotiations - on the citizens’ rights of more than 4 million people - reveals that it has already chosen to “speak a different language” to the EU.
The UK’s proposal on citizens’ rights does not respond to the previous EU offer on citizens’ rights - which guarantees the majority of those rights - but instead makes an entirely different offer founded in UK law.
Having founded ECREU, our campaign for Expat Citizen rights in the EU has entered into a Coalition with 10 other groups to form British in Europe, and the Chair of our Coalition, Jane Golding said this:
“The Government's proposal does not respond to the EU's offer, but instead is an entirely different offer founded in UK law, about the future immigration status of EU citizens in the UK. There is almost no detail on safeguarding the rights of UK citizens in the EU while the EU offer would guarantee the vast majority of rights that UK citizens in the EU currently enjoy, potentially leaving millions of people's acquired rights undefended”.
“The EU offer should have been the starting point for the UK government in its negotiations, subject to certain clarifications. These two offers are almost impossible to compare, so Theresa May's principle of reciprocity is extremely complicated.”
The UK proposal for EU citizens in the UK represents the substitution of acquired rights of EU citizenship under EU law, with a lesser 'settled status', for which EU citizens would be required to apply.
The view from inside the UK
Nicolas Hatton founding co-chair of the3million, an organisation in the UK fighting for the rights of EU Citizens living in the UK, said, “In particular, EU citizens would no longer benefit from the same family reunification rights, or the overarching principle of equal treatment.”
He added: “People’s lives should not be negotiated and all citizens’ rights currently enjoyed by EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU must be safeguarded after Brexit. The EU made a very good offer earlier in June and we expect the UK to improve its first offer to match the level of protection so citizens’ rights are not eroded because of Brexit.”
British in Europe and the3million are also concerned that other rights such as pensions, healthcare, rights to work, rights of establishment and mutual recognition of qualifications require clarification.
“Also, any definitive agreement on citizens’ rights must be ring-fenced from the rest of the Article 50 negotiations if our current anxiety and uncertainty are to be brought to an end, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations,” said Jane Golding. “We hope MPs and others concerned in the process read our considered response and understand the true impact their lesser offer would have on peoples live both in the UK and the EU. So far, our response has elicited a huge positive response and support from citizens directly affected by these negotiations in the EU and UK.”
What of the future?
It seems to us that Theresa May is in effect saying to all EU Citizens currently living and working in the UK, we don’t give a damn about whatever rights you may think the EU gave you, or however long you have lived here, you will have to make a claim to stay here under UK rules and laws, not EU rules and laws. If your claim is successful, we will grant you the new status of ‘settled status’, but if you don’t claim, we will deport you. Oh, and by the way, you lot over there on the mainland, we demand you reciprocate for our folk who have chosen to live over there with you.
It now becomes clearer that it is the Brexiteers in Cabinet who are driving the agenda. There are now seven - yes seven - of the individuals, all of whom were leading figures in the Leave Campaign, and who are now members of the Cabinet. There are 21 members of the Cabinet after the Prime Minister, and so one-third of the Cabinet places have been taken by the big-hitters of the Leave Campaign.
Only one big hitter behind the Remain campaign is still in the Cabinet, namely Damian Green. Oh, yes, Theresa May, and Amber Rudd campaigned for the Remain campaign, but not in any lead role. In fact, they both played relatively minor roles.
After Brexit - 13 Months on
In our view, we believe that the publication of the 26 June document proves the Brexiteers are determined to push the UK into an impossible position, where they can say, 'we cannot agree anything with this lot in Brussels, simply because we insist on applying UK Law. We will have no truck with EU Law! They leave us with no choice but to pull out.'
The 26 June Safeguarding document makes a mockery of what Theresa May has constantly reminded us - her Lancaster House speech. In that she said: "We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can." and went on to say: "The same rules and laws will apply on the day after Brexit as they did before." What is now on offer and can be seen with such stark truth, is hypocritical, when compared with what she said in January.
For those of us who have chosen to make our lives outside of the UK, are now faced with an uncertain future. What is very clear, we now cannot trust Theresa May. She has betrayed us over the acquired rights issue, how many more betrayals must we face? And now, after the latest round of negotiations, the EU has raised the fear of removing our freedom of movement within Europe as a retaliatory response!
Where do We Go from Here with the WFP?
We think that the Winter Fuel Payment is now well past its ‘sell by’ date, and should be replaced with something more appropriate to the changing conditions.
The WFP currently costs British taxpayers a staggering £2billion per year. The ‘Triple Lock’ commitment, which has increased pensions substantially, and will now continue to do so for the next five years (thanks to the DUP), in part compensates for the loss of £200 per annum.
Therefore we think the WFP benefit as such, could now be replaced - after all, the universality of it makes no sense. We remember the fuss in the press, when a few years ago, Lord (Alan) Sugar was revealed as being in receipt of the WFP - it is paid to everyone living in the UK who meet the age requirement, irrespective of their relative wealth and/or income.
For example, it could be envisaged that some form of adjustment to the payments of the increasing taxable State Pension could be envisaged whereby the Winter instalments are weighted. This could benefit those poorer elderly people whose incomes are below the taxable threshold. The means testing proposal made in the Conservative Manifesto, and now dropped (again thanks to the DUP) made no sense, so the tax route could be explored.
BEFORE WE GO
You might wish to learn more about the Expat Campaigns there are around right now, so, we suggest you might look into the following sites:
We joined up with Dave Spokes to found ECREU. This is our new website designed to provide help for all UK Expats throughout EU and EEA countries who want to have their concerns expressed to Parliamentarians, following the Brexit vote. There are far too many uncertainties following the referendum result to leave things to chance, and we want to help. ECREU now has more than 9,264 members in every Member State of the EU.
We have also joined in British in Europe, a Coalition of British Citizens' Groups all over Europe, and you will find details her
This site illustrates some of the harrowing stories of those who will suffer most this winter having lost the Winter Fuel Payment. These are taken from emails received by Brian Cave as he continues his campaigns for Expat Rights.
Brian has an excellent ongoing site, which covers up-to-date information on subjects such as the upcoming Referendum.
Many Expats throughout Europe have lived away from the UK for more than 15 years, and have no vote in the UK.