Theresa May makes 'fair and serious' offer on rights of EU citizens in UK

Theresa May made a 'fair and serious offer' to European Union leaders over the contentious issue of the future rights of EU citizens, though her peers sounded sceptical and demanded more detail

The UK proposal was unveiled by Prime Minister Theresa May at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday
The UK proposal was unveiled by Prime Minister Theresa May at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday

UK Prime Minister Theresa May offered fellow EU leaders a "fair and serious" deal on Thursday for compatriots living in Britain after Brexit, offering those who arrive lawfully before Brexit the chance to build up the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens, though her peers sounded sceptical and demanded more detail.

Given the floor for 10 minutes at the end of a dinner at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, after formal Brexit talks kicked off on Monday, May set out the UK’s opening offer on the rights of EU citizens – an issue both sides have said they would like to be resolved early in the talks.

May outlined five principles, notably that no EU citizen resident in Britain at a cut-off date would be deported.

The Prime Minister said the UK was willing to agree to a cut-off point between 29 March this year, when May formally triggered article 50, and the later date of March 2019 as preferred by the European commission.

Promising details on Monday, May also said those EU citizens who had lived in Britain for five years could stay for life.

Those there for less would be allowed to stay until they reach the five-year threshold for "settled status", which would confer the same rights to work, pensions, NHS care and other public services as British citizens, which they will maintain for life. Red tape for permanent residency would be cut there would be a two-year grace period to avoid "cliff edge" misfortunes. The grace period could start at any point up to the date of Brexit and would allow EU citizens time to regularise their status.

There are roughly 3 million EU nationals currently living in Britain.

That was, she told them, "a fair and serious offer", a British official said. It was "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".

The offer, which is contingent on a reciprocal pledge about the rights of the 1.2 million British citizens currently living elsewhere in the EU, falls short of the EU’s demand for its citizens living in the UK to maintain all EU rights in perpetuity.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who earlier said she wanted "far-reaching guarantees", described giving full rights to those in Britain for five years as "a good start" but said many questions remained.

"It is a first good step which we appreciate," Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said. "Many details are left open. A lot of European citizens are concerned and not covered by May’s proposal. There is a long, long way to go for negotiations."

Other leaders offered few details on their reservations.

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