27 May 2019
Prime Minister Theresa May said  EU nationals living in the UK will enjoy largely the same benefits as British citizens. Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister Theresa May said EU nationals living in the UK will enjoy largely the same benefits as British citizens. Photo: Reuters

May offers to protect benefits of EU citizens living in Britain

British Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled details of her plan to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, saying the government would work to offer them largely the same benefits as British citizens.

An agreement on the post-Brexit rights of EU nationals is one of the easier issues for the two sides to settle, with both Britain and the rest of the bloc wanting to provide assurances to millions of their citizens living abroad, Reuters reports.

But the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain needed “more ambition, clarity and guarantees” in its position. “EU goal on citizens rights: same level of protection as in EU law,” he said in a tweet.

“I want to completely reassure people that under these plans, no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU. We want you to stay,” May told a rowdy session of parliament, adding some detail to a proposal made to Brussels on Friday.

“I believe it is a generous offer.”

May made her pitch just hours after winning a deal to prop up her minority government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, necessary to give her a better chance of passing laws to ease the path of Brexit during two years of talks.

The 15-page document giving a point-by-point explanation of the proposals said Britain would allow current immigrants from the EU to retain healthcare, work rights and other benefits that are more generous than those given to migrants from elsewhere.

It said those who had lived in Britain for five years by an as yet unspecified cut-off point could acquire “settled status”, similar to permanent residency. Those more recently arrived would be allowed to stay until they achieved this status.

But “settled status would generally be lost if a person was absent from the UK for more than two years, unless they have strong ties here”, the government added.

Asked about how much it would cost EU citizens to establish their residency status in Britain, May’s spokesman said: “As a general principle [we] are looking to recover what is spent on the immigration system but we want the fee to be a very reasonable one.”

The government currently charges almost US$3,000 per person to apply for permanent residence.

Monday’s presentation offered more details of a proposal May brought to an EU summit last week, an offer which European Council President Donald Tusk said fell short of expectations and could water down citizens’ rights.

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