Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK
7 OCTOBER 2016 • 11:07PM
All EU nationals currently living in Britain will be allowed to stay following Brexit, after the Home Office discovered that five in six could not legally be deported.
There are around 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK, more than 80 per cent of whom will have permanent residency rights by the time Britain leaves the union in early 2019, official research has concluded.
The remainder – more than 600,000 people – will be offered an amnesty, with several Cabinet ministers telling The Telegraph that those citizens will be offered the right to stay permanently, in a policy that may prove controversial.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK, saying she believes that the Government must not “reveal its hand” ahead of Brexit negotiations, which will begin when she triggers Article 50 next year.
Once an EU citizen has been in the UK for more than five years, they are given permanent residency rights.
Home Office research has concluded that when Britain leaves the EU, just over 80 per cent of EU citizens in the UK will qualify for residency, sources said. “The remaining people will, of course, be allowed to stay in the UK,” a senior source said.
“That’s a given. We just need to work out exactly how we do it.”
Another Cabinet source said: “They will be allowed to remain in Britain. But it is important that reciprocal agreements are made with the EU to ensure that British people abroad get the same rights.”
Although Cabinet ministers are privately giving assurances that they will all be allowed to stay in the country after Brexit, the Home Office is still working on a way to identify the exact number of Europeans living in the UK and establish how long they have been here. The amnesty plan is in its infancy and will raise fears that EU migrants could begin travelling to the UK in large numbers before Brexit.
Some officials believe the Government will, therefore, have to announce a cut-off date for new arrivals after which the amnesty would not apply.
The health department is also conducting a major study on arrangements with Spain to allow British expats to get free medical treatment abroad.
Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, was criticised this week after saying that the status of EU nationals living in Britain is “one of our main cards” in the Brexit negotiations and cannot be guaranteed.
He said: “The Prime Minister has made it very clear – we would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the United Kingdom, but that depends on reciprocation by other countries.
“I think we would all hope that what we get is a totally open, reciprocal agreement where UK citizens in other European countries are free and welcome to stay there, as would those who have already settled in the UK.
“But again, as the Prime Minister said, to give that away before we get into the negotiation would be to hand over one of our main cards in that negotiation and doesn’t necessarily make sense at this point.”
As many as 1.6 million EU citizens resident in the UK come from the so-called EU14, those nations that were part of the EU before 2004, followed by 1.5 million from the eight Eastern European nations that joined 12 years ago.
Brexit and EU nationals living in Britain
How many EU nationals are there in Britain?
The Office for National Statistics says 2.1 million EU nationals were employed in the UK in the first quarter of this year – 224,000 more than in the same period in 2015.
Where are they from?
Poles make up the biggest group – there are about 800,000 living here since the EU’s big eastward expansion in 2004. The next largest cohort is the Irish, with 385,000 citizens, followed by 300,000 Germans. EU citizens living and working in Britain legally don’t have the right to vote in the EU Referendum.
What will happen to them after Brexit?
David Cameron, when he was prime minister, insisted there was no guarantee that EU nationals would automatically maintain the right to live in Britain in the event of Brexit.
Brexit campaigners rubbished this, saying there’s no way people who live and work legally in Britain would be deported.
The situation isn’t likely to change for at least two years while the re-negotiation with Brussels takes place.
So what’s true?
EU nationals already living in Britain at the time of Brexit would almost certainly have individual “acquired rights” under the 1969 Vienna Convention which means they can stay.
After Brexit, the ability of other EU nationals to live and work in the UK will depend on the immigration policy the UK adopts regarding EU citizens.
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