- He said a number of problems existed in ringfencing the rights of citizens in the event the UK left the EU with no deal in place.
- Michel Barnier says the UK and EU should focus on passing Theresa May's withdrawal agreement instead.
- Brussels was giving a clear it would not be willing to accept a "managed no deal" which some Tory MPs have called for.
LONDON The rights of UK citizens living in Europe may not be automatically protected under a no-deal Brexit, the EU has suggested.
Several candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister, including frontrunner Boris Johnson, have said they are prepared to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31, under a so-called "managed no-deal."
However, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier today dismissed suggestions that the UK could could leave while automatically carving out certain uncontroversial parts of the withdrawal agreement, such as citizens rights.
Writing to the UK government, Barnier rejected an appeal to ensure the agreement reached between the two sides on citizens' rights would still apply if Britain leaves the EU without a deal at the end of October.
Barnier said ring-fencing citizens' rights was "far from straightforward," highlighting a number of potential sticking points including the role of the European Court of Justice.
"Our joint efforts should remain focused on making sure that the withdrawal agreement will be ratified and will enter into force," Barnier wrote, according to a Guardian report .
"We should not be distracted from this essential objective."
His letter came in response to a request from Steve Barclay, the UK's Brexit secretary. Barclay wrote to the EU last week asking negotiators to carve out an agreement on rights for British expats if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
Barnier said that both sides should instead focus on securing the full withdrawal agreement, although he added that "no British national will be left in the dark."
Theresa May's government had previously refused to guarantee EU citizens' rights until the EU offered a similar arrangement for the approximately 800,000 British citizens who live elsewhere in the EU.
However, May ultimately agreed to do so after Tory MP Alberto Costa successfully brought forward a Brexit amendment on the issue.
The Costa amendment proposed that workers' rights, including maternity and paternity leave, as well as measures to protect part-time workers, should remain for British nationals on the continent as if the UK were still a member state.
And while the EU Commission is developing its own legislation to safeguard the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU, there are still areas which do not appear to be fully covered.
In his letter to Barnier, Steve Barclay said he had "particular concerns in relation to healthcare arrangements as these are not covered by the current proposals published by the commission."
"The government's position remains that the withdrawal agreement provides the best way of providing confidence to citizens," he added.
"Nonetheless, given our shared commitment to protecting the rights of citizens in all scenarios, I would welcome your views on the proposal put forward by our parliament to ringfence citizens' rights and I propose that we discuss this issue in more detail when we meet."
Barnier's response gave Barclay's proposals short shrift, underlining the fact that the EU is still focused on implementing the full withdrawal agreement, saying that the citizens' rights aspects of the deal were part of an "overall and comprehensive approach" which could not be separated.
"It is therefore far from straightforward to identify which provisions would need to be 'carved out' as part of the ringfencing exercise proposed by the House of Commons in February, with the risk of unequal treatment of certain categories of citizens," Barnier said.