Theresa May appeals to EU nationals to stay in UK
Prime minister will say Brexit deal on citizens’ rights within ‘touching distance’
British prime minister Theresa May: “We hugely value the contributions that EU nationals make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK.” Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images
Theresa May will on Thursday appeal directly to European Union citizens living in Britain, urging them to remain in the country and promising to make it easy for them to do so. As she prepares to meet other EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday evening, the prime minister will say that Britain and the EU are “within touching distance” of an agreement on citizens’ rights.
“When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth,” she will write in a message to 100,000 EU nationals in Britain who have asked to receive updates on citizens’ rights.
“EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK have made a huge contribution to our country. And we want them and their families to stay. I couldn’t be clearer: EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay.”
Citizens’ rights is one of three issues, along with the divorce bill and Ireland, on which the EU says there must be “sufficient progress” in negotiations before talks can begin on a future trading relationship with Britain. In her message to EU nationals, Ms May will promise to streamline the system for them to apply to settle in Britain, to keep the cost down and to drop the requirement for them to prove that they have comprehensive sickness insurance.
A new “user group” to ensure that the process is transparent and responsive will include representatives of EU citizens in Britain, as well as digital, technical and legal experts.
“We want people to stay and we want families to stay together. We hugely value the contributions that EU nationals make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK. And I know that member states value equally UK nationals living in their communities,” the prime minister will say.
The EU has made clear to Britain that this week’s summit will not conclude that sufficient progress has been made on the three priority issues to move to the second phase of negotiations. Ms May will say, however, that the two sides are close to agreeing a common approach to each other’s citizens’ rights after Brexit.
“We are in touching distance of agreement. I know both sides will consider each other’s proposals for finalising the agreement with an open mind. And with flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks,” she will say.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer on Wednesday accused the government of being in paralysis over Brexit after it emerged that the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is unlikely to return to the Commons for debate until next month. MPs have proposed hundreds of amendments to the legislation, which will repeal the Act that brought Britain into the EU and transpose EU laws into British legislation.
“This is further proof that the government’s Brexit strategy is in paralysis. The negotiations are in deadlock and now a crucial piece of legislation is facing further delay. There is chaos at the heart of government. Theresa May cannot unite her cabinet or her party behind this deeply flawed bill. There are now serious questions about whether the prime minister can deliver Brexit,” Mr Starmer said.