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15 February 2017

What will happen to EU nationals after Brexit?

The future of 2.8m people looks uncertain. This is what we know so far.   

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Brexit has thrown up many questions, namely what will happen to EU nationals living here in the UK. Currently, that’s about 2.8m people according to the government white paper that came out this month, or 4.3 per cent of the UK. When you break down the numbers, the majority of those living here are from Poland (c. 900,000), Romania (c. 220,000) and Portugal (c. 210,000). That’s a lot of people uncertain of whether their lives and jobs are about to be destabilised.

There are a few places to look for information, namely the Brexit white paper and Home secretary Amber Rudd. Whilst Rudd has continually expressed the hope of securing the place of EU citizens in the UK, as well as UK citizens in the EU, the government have failed to secure a deal with EU member states.

What does the white paper say?

Not much. What’s for certain is that until Article 50 is triggered, EU citizens retain their right to stay.

However, post Article 50, the terms are unclear. The paper states: “We want to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in other Member States, as early as we can.” It notes that the government wishes to “recognise the contribution EU nationals have made to our economy and communities”. This seems to suggest an intention on the government’s part, but no watertight commitment.

The white paper also notes that the government made attempts “resolve the issue” before formal negotiations, but that “although many EU Member States favour such an agreement, this has not proven possible”.

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What are MPs doing?

Earlier this month, MPs tabled numerous amendments for the Brexit bill – all of which were defeated. That includes the amendment to force government to give all EU citizens living in the UK permanent residence, which was defeated 332-290. Three Conservative MPs voted in favour of the amendment – Ken Clarke (MP for Rushcliffe) who has been outspoken about voting against Brexit, Tania Mathais (MP for Twickenham) and Andrew Tyrie (MP for Chichester). Opposition parties will have another go at passing the amendment in the House of Lords.

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What will happen next?

Until the government writes a new immigration law based on negotiations with member states, it’s hard to say. However, it would take around 140 years to process EU nationals using the existing permanent residence system, so the status quo is not practical. 

Various MPs have spoken out against the lack of clarity, including co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, who has described the Prime Minister’s approach as “cruel” and “immoral”. What looks most likely at this point is that the government, in bartering for the security of British nationals in the EU, has reached a stalemate. We may hear more once Article 50 is triggered.