Friday

21st Jan 2022

May defends proposal on EU citizens' rights

  • May (r) said British people voted to “take back control of our laws, our money and our borders" (Photo: UK Parliament/flickr)

Britain has said EU nationals and their relatives can apply for “settled status” after Brexit, but the EU said the offer lacked “ambition, clarity”.

British prime minister Theresa May told parliament on Monday (26 June) that the arrangements would give “reassurance and certainty” to the 3.2 million EU citizens who lived in the UK.

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  • Barnier (r) has said the EU court should be able to protect EU nationals' rights (Photo: European Commission)

“We want you to stay”, she said.

“No families will be split up,” she added.

She said British people, in last year’s referendum, voted to “take back control of our laws, our money and our borders, to restore supremacy to this parliament”, but not to “turn our backs on our friends and neighbours” in the EU.

The UK the same day published details of its “settled status” offer.

EU nationals who get settled status would have the same rights as British citizens except the right to vote, the offer said.

All 3.2 million would have to apply for it online in a “streamlined digital process” with fees to be set “at a reasonable level”.

Eligibility

They would be eligible if they had lived in the UK for five years or more prior to a cut-off date which remained to be agreed.

But they would be subject to “an assessment of conduct and criminality, including not being considered a threat to the UK”.

They would also lose their settled status if they were in future “absent from the UK for more than two years, unless they have strong ties here.”

Their relatives could stay or come over from the EU if they “have been in a genuine relationship with an eligible EU citizen while resident in the UK”.

But if they married a non-UK citizen in future, their wives or husbands would have to meet a minimum income threshold in order to join them.

Meanwhile, those who moved to Britain more recently than five years ago could apply for “temporary status” before they got their “settled” rights.

There would also be a two-year “grace period” for late applications so that there would be, in May’s words, “no cliff edge” in people’s lives.

The British document ruled out any role for EU courts, an earlier EU demand.

“The arrangements … will be enshrined in UK law and enforceable through the UK judicial system, up to and including the Supreme Court”, it said.

In other details, it said the UK would recognise EU nationals’ pre-Brexit professional qualifications.

It also said EU students in British universities could complete their courses, but did not say if they would have the right to subsequently work in the UK.

EU reaction

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on Twitter on Monday that there was “More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today’s UK position.”

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, said “a number of limitations remain worrisome and will have to be carefully assessed.”

Her added that “any degradation of the rights linked to freedom of movement” would be “contrary to union law”.

May’s handling of the EU negotiation also prompted rebuke in the British parliament, where Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said she had used EU citizens’ rights as “bargaining chips”.

“Can the prime minister now confirm what will happen to her offer to nationals in this country if no deal is reached [with the EU]?”, he asked.

He said her political mandate in the UK was “in tatters” after she lost her parliamentary majority in elections earlier this month.

He also said British voters had “rejected in large numbers” her threat to to turn the UK into “an offshore tax haven aimed at undercutting the European Union by ripping up regulation, hacking back public services”.

May's tactics

May replied to Corbyn by saying that she had to play hard-ball in the EU talks.

“I worry about those who appear to suggest in Europe that we should be punished in some sense for leaving”, she said.

She said Corbyn was among those “who say we should take any deal, regardless of the bill and regardless of the circumstances”.

May, who earlier on Monday secured the backing of the DUP, a Northern Irish unionist party, to stay in power, defended the idea of excluding the EU court from oversight.

She said the EU’s proposal amounted to saying there would be “two classes of citizens” in the UK - “UK citizens, whose rights would be guaranteed by the UK courts; and EU citizens, whose rights would be guaranteed by the European Court of Justice”.

“Our courts are world-renowned - they are respected around the world”, she said.

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