UK has conceded on cut-off date for EU nationals, say Brussels sources

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Britain has quietly conceded that EU27 nationals coming to the country at any point before Brexit day in 2019 will have their rights protected, after a collapse in the number of workers coming to the country blew apart any argument for an earlier cut-off date, according to EU sources close to the negotiations.

Downing Street had been keeping open the possibility that it would offer fewer rights to those arriving after 29 March this year, the date on which the prime minister formally notified Brussels of Britain’s intention to leave the EU. It had been claimed that setting the cut-off date on Brexit day in 2019 would open the UK to a flood of EU27 citizens seeking to enter before Britain left the bloc.

Senior EU sources, however, said that after a dramatic decrease in the number of nationals coming to the UK from the rest of the bloc since the referendum, the British negotiating team had quietly accepted Brussels’ argument that there could be no discrimination between member states’ citizens during the remaining time in which Britain was a member state.

One diplomatic source with knowledge of the behind the scenes discussions said: “The UK has been softening up on the first cut-off date. At first they didn’t want it to be put at the Brexit date. Now, while they are not saying it publicly that it will be Brexit date, it is clearly understood that it will be.

“That is because something happened in the meantime: people stopped coming, or started coming in much lower numbers and some are leaving and industry and NHS are pointing that out.”

The European parliament had also threatened to veto any withdrawal agreement that set the cut-off date earlier than 29 March 2019.

The suggestion that the BUK government had accepted a later cut-off date was described as “nonsense” by a spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European Union. He said: “The specific date will be discussed as part of the negotiations, but it will be no earlier than the day we triggered article 50, and no later than the UK’s exit from the EU.”

Last week it emerged that the number of nurses and midwives coming to work in Britain from the rest of Europe had plunged by 89% since the UK voted to leave the EU in June last year.

Just 1,107 EU27 nationals joined the profession in the year to September, while the number of European workers leaving nursing in the UK also rose 69% over the same period, according to figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

This follows a wider trend with worrying implications for many sectors of the UK economy. The number of EU27 citizens leaving Britain increased by a third to 122,000 over the past year, according to figures published this summer.

A survey of more than 600 businesses, representing nearly a quarter of the 4-million strong workforce of the country’s food chains, suggested that nearly a third of UK food and drink businesses have had EU27 workers leave their employment since the Brexit vote. Almost half said more workers planned to leave because of uncertainty about their future.

Those statistics prompted the sector to warn of a significant disruption and economic damage if the government failed to stem the flow of those leaving the UK.

Under Britain’s proposals on the rights of EU nationals in the UK, those living in Britain until a designated cut-off date will have to apply for a new immigration status to retain access to public services and the jobs market.

Anyone with continuous residence of five years or more on the cut-off date would qualify for “settled status” – with indefinite leave to remain, with access to education, welfare, healthcare and pensions.

Newer arrivals, who have moved to Britain before the cut-off date, would need to apply for temporary leave to remain until they have accrued five years, when they can apply for “settled status”.

EU nationals arriving after the cut-off date will be given a “grace period”, likely to be two years, to apply for another form of immigration status allowing them to legally reside in Britain, such as a work permit.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Daniel Boffey in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Saturday 4th November 2017 05.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010