U.K. Uses Newspaper Pages to Reassure EU Citizens on Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- The British government reached out to European Union voters directly through local media in a bid to reassure them that the rights of their relatives and friends in the U.K. will be protected after Brexit.

Newspapers from Madrid to Riga carried opinion pieces on Tuesday by Brexit Secretary David Davis, who tailored most of them slightly for the specific readership.

“I’ve talked with ministers from many European countries in recent months, and it’s been clear that guaranteeing the rights of citizens and giving them tranquility is a priority for both sides,” Davis wrote in Spain’s El Mundo, using words that were broadly repeated in columns across the continent.

The charm offensive came a day after Prime Minister Theresa May outlined the rights Britain is pledging to guarantee after Brexit for the more than 3 million EU citizens now resident in the country. In a sign there will be strained negotiations, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on Twitter that “more ambition, clarity and guarantees” are needed.

U.K. Uses Newspaper Pages to Reassure EU Citizens on Brexit

Progress on EU citizens’ rights is vital to May’s ambition to secure a smooth exit from the EU because both sides have agreed they won’t start talking about a free-trade accord until agreement is reached on this issue, among others. Areas of disagreement include the ability of EU nationals in Britain to move family members to the U.K. after Brexit and the role of the European Court of Justice.

“I’m aware of a sense of uncertainty among some of your families and friends that live in Britain,” Davis said in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. “Myths concerning our approach aren’t making the situation any easier -- starting with suggestions that U.K. will take draconian steps to expel Poles after our exit from EU, or that we will come up with complicated procedures to discourage Poles from staying in our country. I’d like to correct this now.”

It was May who wrote for Cyprus’s Politis newspaper. “We will make it simple for those Cypriots who have made their lives in the U.K. to stay,” she said.

‘Friends and Allies’

While the politicians wrangle over the final detail of the proposals, Davis sought in Tuesday’s editorials to show that links between Britain and the other 27 EU members will remain close after Brexit.

"We are friends and allies but also neighbors, with interconnected culture, history and societies,” he said in France’s Le Monde. "It’s this human reality that renders our relationship unique.”

While the message across the newspapers was broadly the same, it was tweaked for individual countries. In Le Monde, Davis pointed to 18,000 French youngsters who study in Britain and 60,000 people who daily use the Channel Tunnel, as well as more than 400,000 citizens of both nations who live in each other’s country. In both El Mundo and Romania’s Evenimentul Zilei, he flagged the importance to Britain of health-care workers.

“A large number of Romanians work in highly skilled jobs, with more than 10,000 people working in the National Health Service as doctors, nurses or dentists,” he wrote in the Romanian publication. “The Romanians living in the U.K. represent a very important element of our bilateral relationship. 

Spanish Students

EU immigrants make up about 10 percent of doctors and 5 percent of all workers in the state-run NHS, according to Full Fact, a data-checking charity. The Health Foundation said earlier this month that the number of nurses from the EU registering to practice in Britain plummeted 96 percent since July, with just 46 doing so in April.

“Thousands of Spanish nurses work with dedication in the British National Health Service,” Davis said in El Mundo. “Only this year, we’ve welcomed 11,000 Spanish students to our universities. All these people deserve to be able to look to the future with the greatest certainty possible.”

Davis wrote that Britons will continue to enjoy holidays on Spain’s beaches, a message he repeated for Greece in that country’s Ta Nea newspaper. In other pieces, the Brexit secretary also mentioned 1,300 Latvian students and "thousands’ of Czechs studying in Britain. Irish Independent readers were told both sides want to maintain a common travel area and avoid a return to a hard border.

For Croatians there was less certainty, with Davis pointing out that they are subject to transition rules regarding freedom of movement and access to the labor market. 

“Transition rules apply until end of June 2018, and our intentions related to those measures after that date will be clearly communicated,” he wrote in the Vecernji List newspaper.