Michael Gove promises free UK citizenship for three million EU nationals if he becomes Prime Minister
Michael Gove will grant free citizenship to the three million EU nationals living in Britain if he becomes Prime Minister, it has emerged.
The Environment Secretary - who this weekend threw his hat into the ring to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader - will on Tuesday announce that he is backing a campaign spearheaded by Tory backbencher Alberto Costa to allow citizens in the UK before the 2016 referendum to make their home here permanently.
A source close to the Environment Secretary and former Vote Leave campaigner told The Guardian: "Michael Gove is ready to unite the country.
"Guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals here in the UK through a declaratory scheme, and making a generous offer of citizenship to those lawfully here at the time of the referendum, is a first step in that direction."
The move will reportedly ditch the requirement for EU citizens to provide proof of their right to be in the UK, curbing the Home Office's controversial "settled status" scheme - which only got fully up-and-running in April.
The scheme is open to those who have lived in the UK for five years or more, with the deadline for applications closing on 31 December 2020 if the UK quits the EU without a Brexit deal and by 30 June 2021 if an agreement is in place.
However, The Guardian reports that Mr Gove will announce that EU citizens here at the time of the 2016 referendum will not need to provide proof of when they entered the UK and will be presumed by the Home Office as having the right to remain in the country.
PoliticsHome reported earlier this month that hundreds of thousands of EU citizens were already on track to miss the deadline to apply for the controversial scheme - putting them at risk of punitive measures from the department.
Mr Gove's vow was immediately welcomed by Mr Costa, who threw his weight behind the Environment Secretary's pitch for the top Tory job.
“He is unambiguously demonstrating that leaving the EU is not about moving the goalposts of citizens’ rights and accordingly, he has my full support as a candidate for the premiership," Mr Costa told the Guardian.
He also made clear that Mr Gove would "go further" and allow EU citizens to gain British citizens "at no extra cost" - and would "publicly announce that it was wrong to put EU citizens on the negotiation table in the first place".