Theresa May made a “fair and serious offer” to European Union leaders over the contentious issue of the future rights of EU citizens, offering those who arrive lawfully before Brexit the chance to build up the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens.
Speaking at the end of a dinner at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, after formal Brexit talks kicked off on Monday, May set out the UK’s opening offer on the rights of EU citizens – an issue both sides have said they would like to be resolved early in the talks.
The prime minister told them the UK was willing to agree to a “cutoff point” between 29 March this year, when May formally triggered article 50, and the later date of March 2019 as preferred by the European commission.
EU citizens already in the UK – and those who arrive lawfully during a subsequent “grace period” – expected to be up to two years – will be given the opportunity to build up five years’ worth of residence. The grace period could start at any point up to the date of Brexit and would allow EU citizens time to regularise their status.
That will entitle them to a special category of “settled status”, conferring the same rights to work, pensions, NHS care and other public services as British citizens, which they will maintain for life.