EU citizens living in the UK will be allowed to stay regardless of any Brexit deal, Theresa May will confirm today as she appeals directly to those worried about their future.
On the eve of a crunch summit in Brussels, May will email the 100,000 EU citizens who have asked to be kept informed of developments, promising they can remain in the UK after March 2019.
She will also publish the letter on her Facebook page, vowing not to use EU nationals as “bargaining chips” in the Brexit talks.
The Prime Minister will promise the process for registering to stay in the UK will be ‘streamlined’ – with EU citizens having a direct say over how it will work through a new User Group that will “meet regularly, ensuring the process is transparent and responds properly to users’ needs.”
However, it is still not clear what rights EU citizens in the UK will enjoy after Brexit, as the two sides are yet to reach agreement on issues such as which members of family can live in Britain and whether they can vote in local elections.
It has also not been revealed what would happen to EU citizens’ rights in the case of ‘no deal’ – except that “nobody will be asked to leave”, according to a senior UK Government official.
The letter will be seen as an eleventh-hour bid to force a breakthrough in the Brexit talks, which have stalled over citizens’ rights, the Northern Ireland border and the size of the UK’s financial settlement.
EU leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to formally decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made in these areas to allow the negotiations to turn to a future trade deal.
In the letter, May will say the UK and EU are “in touching distance of agreement” on citizens’ rights.
She will add: “I have been clear throughout this process that citizens’ rights are my first priority. And I know my fellow leaders have the same objective: to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.
“I want to give reassurance that this issue remains a priority, that we are united on the key principles, and that the focus over the weeks to come will be delivering an agreement that works for people here in the UK, and people in the EU.
“When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
“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.”
This included requiring every citizen to apply for a new immigration status within two years of the UK leaving the EU – meaning civil servants will have to process around 4,300 applications a day, every day, for two years, ten times the number they currently deal with.
In her letter, May admits “There is real anxiety about how the agreement will be implemented.”
She goes on: “People are concerned that the process will be complicated and bureaucratic, and will put up hurdles that are difficult to overcome. I want to provide reassurance here too.
“We are developing a streamlined digital process for those applying for settled status in the UK in the future.
“This process will be designed with users in mind, and we will engage with them every step of the way.”
Measures to speed up applications include no longer requiring EU citizens to demonstrate Comprehensive Sickness Insurance, establishing a “simple process” to allow people who already have Permanent Residence to swap this for the new settled status, and keeping the cost of the settlement process as “low as possible”.
The Prime Minister also claims that, despite the stalemate in the talks, she is “confident we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.”