All EU citizens in Britain 'to get full rights to stay'
Britain is preparing to grant nearly a million EU citizens the right to remain in the UK even though they have not achieved the five-year residency qualification as part of plans to kick-start Brexit negotiations, the Telegraph can reveal.
The proposal is part of a “generous” package of measures that will offer to guarantee the rights of all the 3m European Union citizens currently in the UK and build positive momentum in the coming talks that could begin as early as June 19.
Cabinet ministers are expected to debate the measures next week as they make final preparations for talks in Brussels where the fate of British and EU expats on both sides of the Channel will be top of the agenda.
Official sources added that the UK will offer to grant EU citizens “full equivalence” with the rights of UK citizens after Brexit Day at the end of March 2019.
In a third olive branch to Brussels, the UK is also preparing to create a “light touch” approach to establishing whether EU citizens are eligible to remain in the UK in a bid to alleviate the EU’s concerns over a “hostile” Home Office immigration bureaucracy.
EU citizens have already raised worries over an 85-page residency form, but Whitehall sources said this had been “radically simplified” so that applicants automatically skipped sections that were not relevant to their circumstances.
To make things even easier for EU migrants affected by Brexit, sources said that a new system would rely on HMRC tax databases in order to establish if someone has been resident much more rapidly and easily.
This would go a long way to meeting the EU demand that EU migrants in Britain should be given residence after Brexit even if they do not actually have documents “evidencing that right”.
The Telegraph also understands - subject to political decision to be taken by the new government - that Britain is prepared to compromise over the so-called ‘cut off date’ when EU citizens should be eligible for full rights.
Hardliners have argued that anyone who arrived after the Brexit vote on June 24 last year should have known that rules were about to change, but British negotiators are expected to take a softer approach, perhaps with the cut-off date being the day Article 50 was declared in March this year.
“It would be reasonable to argue anyone who arrived after that date could reasonably have foreseen that the rules were going to change,” a second source with knowledge of the Brexit preparations said.
The EU side is demanding that any EU citizen who arrives in Britain up until Brexit day in March 2019 should be granted full rights, but Britain fears this could provoke a last minute rush into the country by EU nationals seeking residency.
Even so, officials say that the UK “has not ruled out” conceding this to the EU as a goodwill gesture that will enable EU residents to fairly make plans for the future.
Whatever date is finally agreed upon, figures from Oxford-based Migration Observatory estimate that there are some 975,000 EU migrants who will be in the UK who have not met the five-year residency test. Even so, this group will be allowed to remain under the plans.
Officials said that the four key planks of the UK offer would enable the vast majority of EU migrants to carry on their lives in the UK uninterrupted.
Britain will, however, stick to several red lines during the talks on Citizens' Rights, most notably refusing to submit to EU demands that the European Court of Justice should be the ultimate arbiter of any Article 50 agreement.
Instead, the UK side is expected to argue that any EU-UK agreement should be policed as part of a future bilateral framework to regulate and settle disputes that arise in future relations between London and the 27 remaining EU member states.
The UK will also balk at any attempts by the EU to create a “special class” of EU citizens after Brexit who enjoy better rights than UK citizens, or tie the hands of future governments who want to amend rights and benefits.
“We can’t have a situation where, if the UK government changed the rules on, say child benefit, then EU citizens would end up with better rights than UK citizens. That is clearly not fair,” the source added.
This is expected to include removing the rights of EU migrants to claim child benefit for children who are not living in Britain, and removing the automatic right of EU migrants to bring non-EU spouses into Britain - something Theresa May fought against in her time as Home Secretary.