UK criminal check plan for EU citizens is sticking point in Brexit talks


British demands to carry out criminal records checks on every EU citizen seeking "settled status" in the U.K. after Brexit have proved a major sticking point in talks with Brussels, according to individuals familiar with the negotiations. | Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images

UK criminal check plan for EU citizens is sticking point in Brexit talks

Brussels believes British proposal goes too far.

British demands to carry out criminal records checks on every EU citizen seeking “settled status” in the U.K. after Brexit have proved a major sticking point in talks with Brussels, according to individuals familiar with the negotiations.

The first full round of Brexit talks ended Thursday after four days with no major breakthrough on the thorniest issues, including the U.K.’s Brexit bill and the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K. and British expats living in EU countries.

A British plan to check the U.K. criminal record of each EU citizen who applies to the Home Office was a major source of friction, one EU diplomat said. More than three million EU citizens live in the U.K. and could be subject to the checks. The EU considers such systematic checks to be impermissible under EU law and believes the U.K. should only carry out checks
based on reasonable suspicion, an insider close to the negotiations said.

“It is so removed from the reality of 3 million people who came to the UK in good faith and are contributing positively to the British society” — Nicolas Hatton, founding co-chair of the group
“It wasn’t taken … too well,” an EU diplomat briefed on the discussions said of the U.K. position.

The proposal also prompted a furious response from the main EU citizens’ advocacy group in Britain, the3million. Nicolas Hatton, a founding co-chair of the group, said the plan was tantamount to “treating 3 million EU citizens like potential criminals.”

“Of course, no one wants to see criminals roaming our streets but the assumption that we could all be criminals draws from the fantasy of the bad immigrant,” Hatton said in a statement to POLITICO. “It is so removed from the reality of 3 million people who came to the U.K. in good faith and are contributing positively to the British society.”

The British side, however, has made clear that ministers consider the criminal records checks, which were included in the U.K’s position paper on citizens’ rights published last month, to be an important means of reassuring the British public that serious criminals will not be granted permanent residence, the insider close to negotiations said.

In another area of disagreement during the citizens’ rights discussions — which negotiators had hoped would be an area of broad agreement — U.K. officials were surprised by EU proposals that British citizens living in Europe should only be granted residence rights in the member state in which they live, rather than across the entire EU. British officials regarded the plan as a watering down of the rights those individuals currently hold, something the EU had said it would not do.

There was also little progress on the contentious issue of whether the European Court of Justice should be able to arbitrate in disputes involving EU citizens in the U.K. after Brexit.

Criminal checks
The U.K.’s plan for criminal records checks would apply a high bar when considering whether to deport criminals, the insider with knowledge of the talks said. It would apply a test similar to one in the EU’s freedom of movement directive, which allows expulsions for those who pose what is considered a serious threat, the insider said.
However, EU officials have concerns that the test is too subjective and want guarantees the checks will not penalize non-serious criminals.

For British citizens in Europe, the biggest concern will center on the EU’s demand that they only enjoy the rights they have now in one EU country.

“The Brits want to preserve the right to exclude those who are serious criminals and a threat to the U.K.,” another EU diplomat briefed on the talks said. “But our guidelines say that it should not be a subjective approach over who will get the status.”

The diplomat asked what would happen if a criminal records check threw up an unpaid motoring fine, for example. “We want to make sure that the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K. can be guaranteed,” the diplomat added.
Citizens’ groups have been pushing to ease the administrative and bureaucratic hassles for those whose residency status has been called into question by Brexit — a position that the EU and the U.K. say they support in principle.

The U.K.’s position has also put the spotlight on another class of citizens whose status may be thrown into question: convicted criminals. “Bilateral agreements will be needed to tackle the issue of class 1 criminals who are spending their time in prison in a host nation, whether they are EU citizens in the U.K. or British citizens in the EU,” Hatton said.

For British citizens in Europe, the biggest concern will center on the EU’s demand that they only enjoy the rights they have now in one EU country.

An EU official briefed on the talks said the EU agrees that a U.K. national could attain citizenship rights in an EU member country and work in that country. But this would not mean the U.K. national would enjoy the same rights in other EU countries, the official said.

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