Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday promised EU citizens living in Britain that they could stay after Brexit, but set up a row with Brussels over the role of Europe’s top court.
At a summit in Brussels, May gave “a clear commitment that no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave the country at the point that the UK leaves the EU”, a British government source said.
“The UK’s position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society,” May told EU leaders.
The EU has made a priority of the rights of an estimated three million Europeans living in Britain, whose futures have been thrown into doubt by its shock vote last year to leave the 28-nation bloc.
Under May’s plan, Europeans who have been living in Britain for five years at the time of a yet to be specified cut-off date would be entitled to a new “settled status” granting them permanent rights to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions equivalent to British nationals.
Newer arrivals would be allowed to stay until they had amassed the necessary five years to qualify for settled status too.
Those who arrived after the cut-off date will have a “grace period” of up to two years, during which they can apply for another form of immigration status, such as a work permit.
But the Conservative leader, battling to retain her authority after losing her parliamentary majority in a snap vote, also put herself on a collision course with Brussels.
She failed to set a cut-off date for those who are eligible for permanent residence, saying only that it would be no earlier than the triggering of the Article 50 process on leaving the EU — March 29, 2017 — and Britain’s formal exit, on course for March 30, 2019.
That will leave some new arrivals unsure of their status.
And she rejected a demand for the European Court of Justice to oversee the process and any resulting disputes.
In its position paper on EU rights published this month, the European Commission said the court should have “full jurisdiction” over such citizens’ rights.
But May is determined to remove Britain from the ECJ’s reach, insisting that “taking back control” of its laws is one of the reasons Britons voted for Brexit.
“The commitments that we made to EU citizens will be enshrined in UK law and enforceable through our highly respected courts,” the British source said.
Resolving the citizens rights issue is one of three priorities for the opening stage of Brexit negotiations that began on Monday.
May said she expected any offer by Britain to be met with a reciprocal offer from the EU for the one million Britons on the continent, but said she wanted a deal to be done as quickly as possible.
Officials said further details, including on the rights of spouses and children of European citizens, would be published in a government paper on Monday.
“The prime minister told leaders that the UK does not want anyone here to have to leave, nor does it want families to be split up,” the source said.
The EU had earlier made clear that no Brexit negotiations would take place at the summit.
Asked about the potential clash with Brussels, the government source said: “They set out a position a couple of weeks ago, we’re setting out our position.”
Date created : 2017-06-23