Theresa May will issue a direct appeal to EU citizens living in the UK to stay in the country after Brexit, saying there was no intention of using them “as bargaining chips” in negotiations and promising them an easy route to settlement.
The prime minister will send an email directly to 100,000 EU citizens offering reassurance as the Brexit negotiations stall, saying: “I couldn’t be clearer: EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay.”
Her appeal comes ahead of her trip to Brussels on Thursday for a crucial EU summit to decide whether the Brexit negotiations have made enough progress on the issue of EU citizens rights, Northern Ireland and financial obligations to proceed to talks about trade.
May will tell EU citizens that the government and EU are in “touching distance” of an agreement on citizens rights, with the outstanding issues being about rights such as voting in elections, onward movement and bringing in family members rather than their permission to stay in the UK.
In the message, sent to those who have signed up to a Home Office list for updates, the prime minister will also promise EU nationals they will get a special new “user group” to give them a say over the process for applying for settled status.
“When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth,” the message will say.
“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.”
May will say she is confident an agreement on the rights of EU citizens will be reached in the coming weeks, after previously saying she wanted to settle the issue as soon as possible in the Brexit talks, which began in July.
“I know there is real anxiety about how the agreement will be implemented. 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,” she will say.
“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.”
She will also commit to dropping requirements for EU citizens to demonstrate comprehensive sickness insurance as they currently have to under EU rules and to keep the cost of the settlement process as low as possible.
“We want people to stay and we want families to stay together,” she will say. “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.”
In response to the email, Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said it was a “sign of panic by the Tories”.
“Any reassurance to EU citizens is welcome and must of course apply to UK citizens in Europe,” she said. “But these are rights that affect us all and millions of people will want reassurance that what is on offer is a genuine guarantee of full rights as they currently exist, including the right to a family life.
“The Tories have been intransigent on this. No half-measures will be acceptable and some joint court of appeal will be necessary. Without these, EU citizens here and UK citizens in Europe may well vote with their feet and we will all be worse off.”
David Davis, the Brexit secretary, gave an update on the UK’s position on EU rights on Tuesday after the fifth round of negotiations ended in yet another stalemate.
He said the two sides had reached agreement on the criteria for residence rights, the right to work and to own a business, social security rights, rights for current family members, reciprocal healthcare rights and the rights of frontier workers.
However, he said there were outstanding issues on “the recognition of professional qualifications; to vote in local elections; to onward movement as a UK citizen already resident in the EU27 and to return; to bring in future family members; and to export a range of benefits”.
Davis said the UK was still waiting to hear if the EU would accept a guaranteed right of return for settled citizens in the UK in exchange for onward movement rights for British citizens currently living in the EU.
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