May rules out guarantee for EU citizens without reciprocal deal

Prime minister says no unilateral protection on rights unless British in EU are included

Theresa May: The British prime minister said that “EU citizens living in the UK make a vital contribution to our economy and our society, and without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker”. Photograph: EPA/Andy Rain

Theresa May: The British prime minister said that “EU citizens living in the UK make a vital contribution to our economy and our society, and without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker”. Photograph: EPA/Andy Rain

 

Theresa May has ruled out guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit until other EU countries agree to do the same for British citizens living elsewhere in Europe.

Speaking in the House of Commons before MPs began debating amendments to a Bill authorising her to start formal Brexit negotiations, the prime minister urged MPs to reject an amendment calling for a unilateral guarantee.

“On the issue of acquired rights, the general view is that we should reach an agreement which applied equally to the other 27 member states and the UK, which is why we think a unilateral decision from the UK is not the right way forward,” Ms May said.

“But, as I have said before, EU citizens living in the UK make a vital contribution to our economy and our society, and without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker.”

The amendment on EU citizens’ rights and another calling for parliament to have a vote on the final Brexit deal are the only proposed amendments likely to attract cross-party support.

Even the most ardent campaigners for Brexit have long argued for EU citizens now living in Britain to be given the security of knowing their rights will be unaffected. But the government maintains it would be unwise to offer such a guarantee before British citizens living elsewhere in the EU are offered the same reassurance.

Area unchanged

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said on Monday she was confident that there was broad support in the EU as well as in Britain for allowing the common travel area to remain unchanged after Brexit.

Speaking in London after meetings with home secretary Amber Rudd and Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire, Ms Fitzgerald said both sides reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining all the rights and privileges currently enjoyed by British and Irish citizens in each other’s countries.

“I think there’s such political agreement and stated commitment at a high level in both countries, and I don’t see it creating major difficulties for other member states. There’s no reason for it to,” she told The Irish Times.

“I think we can deal effectively with it and I don’t think that in the new context, it should present particular difficulties.”

Ms Fitzgerald said it was in everyone’s interest for the current level of security co-operation and information-sharing between Britain and Ireland to continue after Brexit. “The bottom line really is that what’s working well at the moment, the UK wants to continue,” she said.

According to the Tánaiste, Britain did not want to see co-operation at a European level, through the European Arrest Warrant and Europol, “fall off a cliff edge” after Brexit. She said she favoured a phased approach to change in that area.

Ms Fitzgerald acknowledged, however, that the Conservative government’s determination to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice complicated efforts to maintain current levels of co-operation.