Government gives ground on free movement by offering EU citizens right to stay in UK indefinitely
The Government has announced a major U-turn on citizens' rights to give EU nationals who arrive during the Brexit transition period the right to remain indefinitely in the UK.
It marks a rapid climbdown from last month when Theresa May said that those arriving after the end of next March would not have the same rights as people who are already here.
That stance was swiftly rebuffed by Brussels, who have insisted that those who arrive during the implementation period must have the same free movement rights as other EU nationals.
Reports last week suggested the Prime Minister was considering a climbdown, with a government source telling the Times there was a "big U-turn in the offing".
A statement released by the Home Office today sets out that EU citizens and their family members “will be able to move to the UK during the implementation period on the same basis as they do today”.
Those who arrive after March 2019 and stay longer than three months will have to sign up to a migration register, after which they will effectively have the same “settled status” as those who came to the UK before Brexit day.
If they choose to stay in the UK for five years they will be entitled to indefinite leave to remain.
The Home Office said the move was a “a pragmatic step towards implementing our future immigration system”, though it may fall short of the expectations of Tory eurosceptics.
Brexiteers may also be unhappy that there are not yet any guarantees for British citizens living on the continent.
Instead the document says that the rights of Britons living in the EU are “for determination by Member States” and that the Government would “encourage Member States to mirror the UK’s offer in their own arrangements”.
The main difference for those arriving after March 2019 is in the arrangements for bringing family members to the UK.
Unlike EU citizens who arrived before Brexit day, later arrivals will need to meet the same income threshold rules that currently affect British nationals who want to bring non-EU family members to the UK.
The rights of those who arrive during the transition period will also be guaranteed by British courts, rather than the European Court of Justice.
'BIG STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION'
The move was warmly welcomed by the British Chambers of Commerce, who said it would give businesses more certainty for the future.
“The BCC has long campaigned for an immigration system that supports the economy, so the UK government’s unilateral offer of rights for EU nationals during the transition period is a big step in the right direction," said director general Adam Marshall.
“Since the vote to leave the European Union, employers across the country have sought assurances and clarity on the status of existing EU workers and those that arrive during the transition, so they will be pleased to finally have answers. This announcement will remove significant short-term uncertainty for families, businesses and wider communities.
“The government’s announcement means that employers can hire EU nationals during the transition period without expensive and unnecessary compliance issues, which too often hinder the ability of firms to recruit talent from overseas when necessary."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister insisted there had not been a shift in the Government's position.
He said: "We've always been clear that people arriving during the implementation period would be free to live and work and study here, but they would be arriving under a different set of circumstances to those arrive pre-March 2019 and therefore the precise rights they obtained would be different.
"One difference would be in relation to the right to bring in family members after the implementation period is over. You would have to meet UK immigration rules in order to bring in that family member after the implementation period. That is different to people arriving pre-March 2019, who can bring in family members under current EU rules."