Campaigners for the rights of British nationals in Europe have urged the EU to reciprocate a “significant” offer from the government to allow them continued freedom of movement to retire or live in another country in the bloc after Brexit.
They made their call after Theresa May appeared to respond to a letter they sent following her Florence speech imploring her to make a gesture that would break the logjam in talks.
Under the offer, unveiled after the close of Brexit talks this week, EU citizens settled in the UK following Brexit would no longer be stripped of their rights to permanent residency if they move abroad for more than two years, for example for work or to look after an ill relative.
The offer was described as a “big step forward” by British in Europe, which campaigns for the preservation of rights of 1.2 million Britons on the continent. “We are delighted,” the group said in a statement.
It hopes the move will pave the way to persuading the EU that Britons already settled in Europe should continue to have freedom of movement after Brexit.
Britons have expressed fear that the loss of free movement rights would mean they are “locked in” to an EU member state to which they have emigrated, preventing them from returning to Britain to look after elderly relatives for a period of more than two years, or unable to retire to another EU country without going through immigration procedures for third-country nationals.
“We are delighted to hear that the UK government has shown the flexibility that we asked for on free movement and has offered guaranteed rights of return to EU citizens in the UK with the hope that the EU will respond with onward rights of free movement for UK citizens in the EU,” said Jane Golding, the chair of the group.
“This is what we asked for in our letter to Theresa May last week: we asked for a gesture to remove the logjam, and it looks like they have listened.”
Activists lobbying for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK said it was “really positive” that the two-years-and-out rule could no longer apply after Brexit.
They also welcomed the announcement by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, that those who had endured the ordeal of applying for permanent residency would not have to “go through the whole process again” when it comes to registration after Brexit.
“There was a real sense that progress was made. We really welcome that,” said Nicolas Hatton, the co-founder of the3million, which campaigns for EU citizens in the UK. “There is still work to do though,” he added.
Last month fewer than half of the issues on the table at the UK-EU talks were agreed. Official documents released on Thursday show that 47 of 60 issues are now agreed. “We have made real progress which will enable citizens to live their lives broadly as before,” Davis said at a press briefing.
The3million also welcomed the promise that EU citizens’ legacy rights would be enshrined in law, with UK courts allowed to take rulings by the European court of justice into account.
“This agreement on direct effect is really positive and a key part of what we have been asking for. It means that if there is a change of heart at the government or at the Home Office, we will be able to challenge it in the UK courts,” said Hatton.
The Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress have issued a joint appeal to Brexit negotiators to resolve the issue of future citizens’ rights as a matter of urgency. They said EU citizens affected by Brexit were caught up in an intolerable round of “human poker”.
In a rare joint statement, the CBI’s director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, and the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the UK and the EU needed to issue a clear guarantee within weeks that citizens could carry on living where they are.
Barnier said on Thursday that although good progress had been made in the fourth round of talks, there still had not been sufficient progress on three key issues – the role of the European court of justice, family reunification rights and the future registration system for EU citizens.
This article was written by Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 29th September 2017 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010