Three million EU migrants to get right to stay
Theresa May makes opening offer to European leaders but insists any deal must protect rights of one million British expats as well
MORE than three million European Union citizens living in the UK will be given the right to stay permanently after Brexit and treated like British citizens, Theresa May told European leaders last night.
The Prime Minister made a “fair and serious offer” to European leaders in Brussels as she pledged that all those who arrived in Britain before she triggered Article 50 in March would be entitled to stay.
Mrs May also said that she did not want to “break up families”, in a clear indication that the spouses and children of EU citizens who live abroad will be eligible to join them in the UK.
However, she said it was “vital” that any deal would have to be “reciprocal” and based on the EU granting the one million British citizens who live in Eu- rope the same rights.
She also refused to meet EU demands that the “cut-off date”, after which EU citizens will no longer automatically be entitled to stay in the UK, should fall on the day that Britain leaves the EU.
She instead said that it would be a matter for negotiation and could fall at any point between March 29 2017, the date that Article 50 was triggered, and the date that Britain leaves the EU, which is expected to be in March 2019.
All those arriving after the “cut-off date” will be given a two-year “grace period” and will be subsequently expected to obtain a work permit or return to their home countries.
If the cut-off date falls in 2019, as the EU demands, it effectively means that freedom of movement will continue until 2021.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said that while Mrs May’s offer on EU citizens’ rights was a “good start”, there were many issues that needed to be resolved before the first phase of talks end in October.
Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, told reporters after the dinner that he was non-committal on the UK offer. “We need some more days to get more information,” he said. Christian Kern, the Austrian chancellor, reacted similarly. “There were so many details left open,” he said as he left the summit.
Mrs May also set up a further clash with the EU by rejecting demands that the European Court of Justice should continue to oversee the rights of EU migrants after Brexit.
She said: “The commitment that we make to EU citizens will be enshrined in EU law and enforced through our highly respected courts”. She told European leaders after a working dinner in Brussels: “The UK’S position represents a fair and serious offer, 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.”
A senior official added: “We will be aiming to treat them [EU migrants] as if they were UK citizens for healthcare, education, benefits and pensions.”
Mrs May’s initial offer, which will be detailed in full in a position paper published on Monday, comes as she tries to keep pro-european Conservative MPS onside in the wake of the Tories’ disastrous performance at the General Election. She refused to meet Labour demands that Britain should agree “unilaterally” to protect the rights of EU migrants before securing a guarantee for Britons living in the EU. Under the plans, those who have already lived in the UK for five years will be granted “settled status” and allowed to live in Britain permanently.
Anyone arriving before the “cut-off date” will also be entitled to stay permanently, as long as they remain in Britain for at least five years. The offer will even apply to those who arrive just a day before the date.
Mrs May has resisted demands to guarantee the rights of EU migrants until the day Britain leaves the EU. Ministers have raised concerns that doing so could lead to a “surge” in the number of EU migrants coming to the UK before Brexit. It will also give Mrs May significant leverage in negotiations.
The Prime Minister made clear that enshrining the rights of EU migrants living in the UK in law would be a red line. A senior British official said: “We have been clear on the European Court of Justice that we are taking back control of our own laws.”
Mrs May also promised to “streamline” migrants’ applications to remain amid concerns that there are currently huge backlogs.
A senior official said: “The Prime Minister signalled that the administration of the system would be as streamlined as possible using digital tools to register people in a light-touch way.”
There are several details about the offer which will be spelled out on Monday. Mrs May did not explicitly say whether the spouses of EU migrants would be allowed to join them in the UK. She also did not say whether EU citizens would be able to continue sending child benefit back home if their children do not live in the UK.
Before the meeting, Mrs May said: “I’m going to be setting out some of the UK’S plans, particularly on how we propose to protect the rights of EU citizens and UK citizens as we leave. We’ve wanted it to be one of the early issues to be considered in the negotiations. That is now the case. That work is starting.”
Earlier Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, referred to the John Lennon song Imagine when he said he would like Britain to stay in the EU.
He said: “Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU. I told them that, in fact, the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
DONALD TUSK yesterday invoked John Lennon as he said he “dreams” that Britain could still stay in the European union.
The president of the European Council said it is not “impossible” that Brexit could be abandoned, adding: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
It came on the day that Theresa May made a “fair and serious offer” to give EU citizens living in the UK the right to stay permanently after Brexit and be treated like British citizens.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said that as a committed Anglophile he “hates Brexit from every possible angle”.
Mr Tusk said: “You can hear different predictions coming from different people about the possible outcome of these negotiations – hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal. Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU. I told them that, in fact, the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
However, he was almost immediately contradicted by other European leaders including Jean Claude-juncker, the president of the European Commission, who said: “In Europe I never have illusions because I don’t want to lose them.”
Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, said: “I am not a dreamer. And I am not the only one.”
It came as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said that Brexit was less of a “priority” than the future of
the European Union. She said: “I want to say clearly that, for me, shaping the future for the 27 takes priority over the negotiations with Great Britain over withdrawal. Naturally we will conduct these negotiations quickly and we will conduct them intensively. We will do everything to ensure that – as has been successfully done so far – the 27 states stick together.
“We want this negotiation to take place in a good spirit. We know that we will want to work with Great Britain later. But the clear focus must be on the future of the 27, so that we have the best results.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said he preferred to talk about Europe’s ambitions and plans than get involved in “discussions lasting days and nights on its dismantling”.
Mr Macron repeated his position that the door remains open for a U-turn on Brexit, but warned that it will be-
come more difficult the longer talks between David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, continue. “The door is open until the moment you walk through it. It’s not up to me to say it’s closed,” Mr Macron told The Guardian.
Mr Rutte suggested that he respected the outcome of last year’s referendum, even if he regretted it.
“I am an Anglophile,” said Mr Rutte. “You are one of our most beloved partners, so I hate Brexit from every angle. But you can’t argue with democracy.”
Arriving at the European Council summit for the first time since this month’s snap election left her in a weakened position at the head of a minority government, Mrs May insisted that talks on withdrawal had begun in a “constructive” way.
“What I am going to be setting out today is clearly how the United Kingdom proposes to protect the rights of Emmanuel Macron, fresh from winning a large majority, and Angela Merkel talk to Theresa May at the Brussels summit EU citizens living in the UK and see the rights of UK citizens living in Europe protected,” she said. “That’s been an important issue. We’ve wanted it to be one of the early issues to be considered in the negotiations. That is now the case. That work is starting.”
The Prime Minister also urged European leaders to put pressure on social media websites such as Whatsapp and Facebook to give security services access to encrypted messages so they can tackle terrorists. Mrs May called on the EU to help “rid terrorist material from the internet in all our languages” in the wake of the Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park terror attacks.
Speaking at the European Council she said that the terror threat is “evolving quickly”, highlighting the fact that in Manchester an improvised explosive device was used while in London the attacks involved vehicles and knives.
She said that technology companies must “fulfil their responsibilities” and automatically remove extremist content instead of acting “reactively” once they are notified by users.
She said that “concerted pressure” is needed to stop end-to-end encryption, where even the social media companies themselves cannot access the content of messages.
♦ Mr Juncker yesterday hailed a new deal on EU defence co-operation which will see Europe sharing defence procurement and working together on small projects such as logistics and officer training. He said: “What was started in 1954 is happening now ... I said this was ‘the sleeping princess’ of the Lisbon Treaty. Well, the Princess is now awakening.”
Theresa May arrives at the Europa Building, the main headquarters of European Council in Brussels, before the EU leaders’ summit