Legal guarantee on EU citizens' rights may have to wait for full Brexit deal - top ministers

Posted On: 
12th March 2017

There may not be a formal agreement on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK until the end of the Brexit negotiations, Liam Fox and David Davis have indicated. 

Liam Fox on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday
Credit: 
Sky News

Theresa May has insisted that a reciprocal deal guaranteeing the status of European citizens in the UK and Britons living in other member states is one of her priorities once Article 50 is triggered.

But Mr Davis and Mr Fox – two of the “three Brexiteers” appointed to top Cabinet posts after the referendum – said today any early mutual arrangement may not be legally sound.

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“I hope even if we can’t make an absolute agreement in law, we can set out very clearly that we agree the principle of this,” International Trade Secretary Dr Fox told Sky News.

Mr Davis, meanwhile, said the issue might require a new treaty and suggested it could be tied up with the rest of the Brexit negotiations.

“The European Commission has a favourite phrase, which is ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – on this occasion I rather agree with them,” he told the Andrew Marr Show.

“It may or may not be that it requires a treaty, I don’t know, but what I think we’ll know is the in principle result.

“Bluntly, I’m reasonably sure where the political result will end… Our discussions with the European Union across the board - virtually everyone I’ve been to see - has raised that as the first issue.”

The House of Lords passed an amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) bill which called on the Government to bring forward proposals to guarantee unilaterally EU nationals’ rights to remain in the UK within three months of triggering Article 50.

The Commons will vote tomorrow on whether or not to overturn the amendment, with the Government whipping its MPs to oppose it.

Mr Davis said: “I understand why people are concerned, I think there’s a moral responsibility to European citizens too. But everybody understands that this is an issue that’s got to be resolved together, Brits and Europeans together.”

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said today EU citizens were being left in “limbo” as a result of the Government’s refusal to give a unilateral guarantee.