British prime minister Theresa May laid out to fellow EU leaders, on Thursday (22 June), a proposal for the rights of over 3 million EU citizens after Brexit, saying no EU citizens residing legally in the UK would be forced to leave and no families would be separated.
According to a British official, May told the EU 27 that all EU citizens living legally in the UK at the point when the country leaves the EU will have the opportunity to “regularise their status” to remain in the country under new rules.
Any EU citizen living in the UK with five years residence will be granted UK “settled” status.
The UK “will be aiming to treat them” as if they were UK citizens in terms of healthcare, education, benefits and pensions, the official said.
Those who have less than five years of residence, but arrived before the so-called cut off date, will be “given time to stay” until they have the five years of residence to obtain the UK settled status.
The cut off date, according to May’s proposal, is up for discussion, but should be no earlier than the triggering of Article 50, and no later than the UK’s actual exit from the EU.
May told EU leaders she wanted agreement on reciprocal settlement rights for UK citizens living in the EU as soon as possible.
After May finished her presentation, not a single EU leader commented or asked questions, according to an EU source.
May left the room and the meeting turned into an EU 27 summit with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier briefing leaders on the Brexit talks.
The new Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar also briefed his colleagues on how he sees the border issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the possible implications of the UK general elections.
German chancellor Angela Merkel later referred to May’s offer as “a good beginning”, but noted that many points remain open. “We have a lot to do until October,” she said on her way out of the summit.
May’s opening bid was short on details.
The detailed UK offer for EU citizens’ settlement rights will be released next Monday (26 June). Leaders agreed it was necessary for Barnier’s team to review the UK offer “line by line” and compare it to the EU’s previous offer.
The EU’s position, among other things, said that the European Commission should be able to monitor the enforcement of citizens’ rights, and the bloc’s top court in Luxembourg should have jurisdiction over protecting them.
But May had notably remained silent about the question of the European Court of Justice, and the lifetime guarantee of these rights that the EU seeks.
The British PM however insisted her offer was “fair and serious”.
But the the3million, the organisation representing the EU citizens living in the UK, disagreed.
In an emailed statement, the3million called May’s offer “pathetic”, “unacceptable” and “short of expectations”.
“There is something slightly pathetic about the prime minister’s proposal which makes no reference to the detailed, comprehensive offer tabled by the EU. The prime minister described her proposal as fair and serious. It’s neither fair nor serious,” Nicolas Hatton, co-chair of organisation, said.
The group said May’s proposal anchors citizens’ future rights in the “notoriously difficult and unfair UK immigration law”.
The organisation pointed out that the offer fails to list the “indivisible rights” of EU citizens, such as “rights to continue to work”, “right to move between and work freely across all EU countries without loss or change of any existing EU rights”, or the “right to family reunification”.
The citizens’ group also wants to make sure that a settlement on their rights will not be subject to change during the rest of the negotiations.