Ahead of the European Council meeting in Brussels, Prime Minister Theresa May wrote an open letter to EU nationals living in the UK.
The letter was sent this morning to some 100,000 people who registered on the Home Office website to stay updated on changes to their status in relation to Brexit.
Today and tomorrow leaders of EU countries meet in Brussels. They will discuss Brexit progress so far. They are expected to say that negotiations on the terms of the UK departure haven’t gone far enough to start talking of a new trade agreement. The UK has been pushing to begin trade negotiations as soon as possible, in parallel with the EU withdrawal. But the EU argues the legal basis of the two agreements is different and the terms of exit need to be settled before the discussion can start on anything else.
The areas where progress is needed are the financial settlement associated with the departure, the preservation of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland and the confirmation of rights for EU nationals living in the UK and British citizens in the rest of the EU.
On people’s rights, the UK plans to create a new “settled status” for EU nationals in replacement of EU’s “permanent residence” rules. But the settled status does not recognise the right of reunification with family members who are not in the UK at present (as EU laws would do). The UK also wants to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice on its territory, while the EU wants the interpretation of rights to be consistent in the EU and the UK under the European Court. On the other hand, the EU is prepared to recognise the rights of British citizens only in the country where they currently reside, ending free movement across the EU27.
In her direct message to EU nationals, the British Prime Minister says the government and Brussels are in ‘touching distance’ of reaching an agreement on these points. She promises to make it easy to obtain settled status, i.e. no longer requiring Comprehensive Sickness Insurance and keeping the cost of the administrative procedure “as low as possible”. She also announces the creation of a ‘user group’ to ensure “the process is transparent and responds properly to users’ needs.”
This is the full text of the letter:
“As I travel to Brussels today, I know that many people will be looking to us – the leaders of the 28 nations in the European Union – to demonstrate we are putting people first.
I have been clear throughout this process that citizens’ rights are my first priority. And I know my fellow leaders have the same objective: to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.
I want to give reassurance that this issue remains a priority, that we are united on the key principles, and that the focus over the weeks to come will be delivering an agreement that works for people here in the UK, and people in the EU.
When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth. 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.
But this agreement will not only provide certainty about residence, but also healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system – and UK nationals into the system of an EU27 country – can benefit from what they’ve put in. It will enable families who have built their lives together in the EU and UK to stay together. And it will provide guarantees that the rights of those UK nationals currently living in the EU, and EU citizens currently living in the UK will not diverge over time.
What that leaves us with is a small number of important points to finalise. That is to be expected at this point in negotiations. We are in touching distance of agreement. I know both sides will consider each other’s proposals for finalising the agreement with an open mind. And with flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.
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.
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. We will keep the cost as low as possible – no more than the cost of a UK passport. The criteria applied will be simple, transparent and strictly in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement. People applying will not have to account for every trip they have taken in and out of the UK and will no longer have to demonstrate Comprehensive Sickness Insurance as they currently have to under EU rules. And importantly, for any EU citizen who holds Permanent Residence under the old scheme, there will be a simple process put in place to swap their current status for UK settled status.
To keep development of the system on track, the Government is also setting up a User Group that will include representatives of EU citizens in the UK, and digital, technical and legal experts. This group will meet regularly, ensuring the process is transparent and responds properly to users’ needs. And we recognise that British nationals living in the EU27 will be similarly concerned about potential changes to processes after the UK leaves the EU. We have repeatedly flagged these issues during the negotiations. And we are keen to work closely with EU Member States to ensure their processes are equally streamlined.
We want people to stay and we want families to stay together. 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. I hope that these reassurances, alongside those made by both the UK and the European Commission last week, will provide further helpful certainty to the four million people who were understandably anxious about what Brexit would mean for their futures.”
In an immediate reaction the3million, a group defending rights of EU nationals in the UK, argued that negotiations on citizens’ rights are “barely out of the starting blocks.” Co-founder Nicolas Hatton said: “For the past year, we have unsuccessfully tried to meet with David Davis and Theresa May. We have also made detailed objections to the proposed ‘settled status’ which have been read but seem to have been comprehensively ignored.” The group, however, welcomed the opening of dialogue.
Hedwig Hegtermans, one of the recipients of the message, commented: “This letter might be addressed to us but the intended audience is the EU heads of state, to help move to phase two of the negotiations.”
May now claims EU citizens never used as bargaining chips. Um. She could’ve guaranteed unilaterally & chose not to. https://t.co/bgDcqss3lE
— Mike Galsworthy (@mikegalsworthy) October 19, 2017
And why is this letter sent to the press first and only directly to those of us who signed up on Home Office email list? 10/
— Prof Tanja Bueltmann (@cliodiaspora) October 18, 2017
— Anne Wesemann (@LAWesemann) October 19, 2017
.@BritishInEurope would also like to keep these rights so that we have a chance of moving back to the UK with foreign spouses if we want to
— Brill Members (@BritsLux) October 19, 2017
— Brill Members (@BritsLux) October 19, 2017
If PM was serious about not using EU citizens as "bargaining chips", she'd simply offer to keep *all* rights. https://t.co/mXMVVyM6EF
— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) October 18, 2017
The Gov seems to be forgetting that their "settled status" hasn't been agreed with EU27, and instead act as if it's already been decided…
— Dr Charlotte Beyer (@beyer_char) October 19, 2017
European Commission not impressed w/May’s letter. Will say, inter alia, citizens rights ‘is not a matter of "flexibility and creativity". It's a matter of creating cast-iron guarantees for the rights to be protected.’
— Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) October 19, 2017
— Alexandra (@alexandrabulat) October 19, 2017
— Pauline Bock (@PaulineBock) October 19, 2017
Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Photo: Theresa May welcoming EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at 10 Downing Street. Photo by David Mirzoeff © European Union, 2017.