22/06/2017 21:38 BST | Updated 23/06/2017 08:33 BST

EU Citizens To Get Chance To Stay In UK After Brexit As Theresa May Makes 'Fair And Serious Offer'

Theresa May proposes 'settled status' after living in UK for five years or more.

EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years or more could be given “settled status” and allowed to stay, Theresa May has said as she made a “fair and serious offer” to European Union leaders.

The Prime Minister’s announcement on EU citizens who arrived in the UK before Brexit being given the chance to get the same rights as British citizens represents her opening move on the contentious issue after talks started on Monday.

Around three million EU nationals – one in 20 of the British population - are estimated to be living in the UK and many have been concerned for their future since the referendum of 2016 backed Brexit.

The pledge will depend on whether the EU agrees to giving rights to the 1.5 million British citizens currently living elsewhere on the continent in return.

Speaking at the end of a dinner at an EU summit in Brussels, May said the UK was open to a “cut-off point” between March 29 this year - when article 50 was triggered - and the later date of March 2019 preferred by the European Commission.

It will work by EU citizens already in the UK being given the chance to build up five years’ worth of residence. It will be the same for those who arrive lawfully during a subsequent “grace period”, which could be up to two years.

If the offer is accepted, it would mean the advent of a new “settled status” - giving those qualifying the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens.

The plan will be published in full on Monday. May said:

“The UK’s position represents a fair and serious offer, and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society.”

Ahead of her visit, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he hoped leaders of the 27 other nations would match her “generous” proposals to guarantee the rights of EU nationals with a similar offer to the British expats on the Continent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Britain’s promise to grant full rights to EU citizens who have been living in Britain for five years a “a good start” to Brexit talks.

Merkel said at the end of the first day of a two-day EU leaders summit that May “said clearly” to her peers that EU citizens who have been living in the U.K. that long “will be able to hold on to full rights” once Britain leaves the bloc. Merkel said: “That is a good start.”

But Merkel cautioned that the two years of Brexit negotiations that started this week involve “many, many other issues.”

Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said the proposals are “frankly too little too late”, and leave millions of people “still facing unanswered questions over their futures here”. 

“It is simply not good enough,” he added. “Theresa May could have given a guarantee from day one, instead she has allowed our friends, colleagues and neighbours to live in uncertainty for a year.

“Many EU nationals including those working in the NHS have already left because of this government’s heartless approach.

“Even now, Theresa May continues to insist on using EU nationals in Britain as bargaining chips and has failed to provide a full and clear right to stay for all.

“If this government was really concerned about the rights of UK citizens in Europe, they wouldn’t be pursuing an extreme form of Brexit that will make it harder to live abroad.”