Theresa May accused of 'watering down' pledge to protect EU citizens under a no-deal Brexit
Brussels has accused Theresa May of "watering down" a commitment to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain if the country leaves the bloc without a deal.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said long-awaited plans unveiled today by the Government would see those living and working in Britain used as "bargaining chips".
Campaigners from the 3million group - representing EU citizens in Britain - meanwhile branded the proposals "unacceptable".
But the Government insisted a no-deal Brexit would see EU citizens "able to broadly live, work and study as they would in a deal scenario".
The row came as the Department for Exiting the European Union published its policy paper on citizen’s rights under a no-deal scenario, making clear that EU citizens will face a series of more sudden cut-off points if the deal struck between the two sides does not come into force.
Under the Government’s plans for a deal, all EU citizens who have lived in the UK for at least five years by the end of December 2020 will be able to apply for “settled status".
In the event of a no-deal, however, only EU citizens who lived in Britain before March 29, 2019 - the day the UK leaves the bloc - will be eligible to apply, while they will also have less time to apply through the scheme.
"As there would be no agreed implementation period, those EU citizens and their family members resident here by 29 March 2019 would have until 31 December 2020 to apply for a status under the EU Settlement Scheme, but with no six-month ‘grace period’ beyond this," the document says.
The no-deal plans are also less generous for EU citizens hoping to bring their family members to the UK when compared to the terms outlined in the Brexit deal.
The move prompted a furious backlash from the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt.
The Brussels chief said: “EU and UK citizens cannot be the victims of a no–deal Brexit, nor used as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations.
“In the case of no deal, the European Parliament and I have been clear that we want the Citizens' rights deal that has been provisionally agreed to be ring-fenced and the EU must honour this.
“The citizens' rights deal shouldn't be watered down as the UK has today proposed.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Sir Edward Davey meanwhile said the Government had “finally admitted that free movement of labour won't end this March”.
He added: "The fact they tried to sneak this out shows yet again that people can't trust anything this Government says on Brexit and immigration - they are still refusing to publish their Immigration White Paper, which is supposed to tell us how immigration policy will work after Brexit.”
And 3million, which has been campaigning for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK during the Brexit process said: “This situation arising from a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable and it is high time now for both Downing Street and the EU Commission to get together and ring-fence, rescue the citizens rights part of the withdrawal agreement no matter what Brexit we get.”
But a spokesperson for the UK government said that only an agreement with the EU could “fully protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK”.
They added: "In a no-deal scenario EU citizens would be able to broadly live, work and study as they would in a deal scenario. After a three year transition period, EU citizens’ right to family reunion will be brought in line with those of British citizens and non-EU nationals, ensuring fairness in our immigration system.
“There will also be some changes to reflect that there would not be an implementation period. For instance, EU citizens and their family members will have until December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme but with no six- month grace period. This guarantee would only apply to EU citizens who are resident here by Exit day.
“Also, given there will be no deal with the EU, there would be no Independent Monitoring Authority and no reference procedure to the CJEU, as it would not have any jurisdiction in the UK.
“We are strongly engaging with EU counterparts to urge them to make the same commitment to protect the rights of UK nationals in the EU."