There hasn’t been much good news for the three million EU citizens living in the UK since the referendum. After a year of complete uncertainty over their rights, Theresa May offered in June to create a “settled status” for EU citizens after Brexit, but the proposition was judged “too little, too late” by many.
Indeed, 15 months after the Brexit vote, EU citizens in the UK still don’t know exactly what their situation will be when the UK leaves the European Union and – potentially – the single market. Now, the French saying avoir de la chance dans son malheur (to be lucky in one’s own misfortune) applies to the three million: the British government has confirmed that their future in the UK will be slightly less bleak than expected.
After “some false information circulating around the future criteria required for all of us after Brexit to obtain the documentation providing evidence of [EU citizens’] rights”, campaigning organisation The 3 Million has announced that the Home Office has met some of their “key demands” on the matter.
After Brexit, EU citizens living in the UK will not have to prove they have Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI), which is required of applicants seeking permanent residency. Nor do they have to meet an income threshold, which non-EU nationals have to do when moving with their family to the UK. They will not be asked to submit fingerprints and will not be issued a special ID card, two measures that have been rumoured in recent months to have been considered by the government.
Nicolas Hutton, from The 3 Million, told the New Statesman: “It’s brilliant. I think a lot of people will be less anxious tonight.” He said that there “hasn’t been enough progress on citizens’ rights” and hoped the EU will be “strong enough” to block the implementation of the “settled status” proposal.
“We thought we ought to make it public as the news would bring some relief among you who couldn’t qualify for Permanent Residence or Indefinite Leave to Remain and it would bind the Home Office to the policy in the future,” The 3 Million said in a statement. “The Home Office has repeated that they are focusing on designing a completely new system that will easily allow EU citizens currently living in the UK to obtain documentation”. The new rules will not apply to EU citizens already in the process of applying for permanent residency.
These reassurances also do not apply to EU citizens who might come here in the future. In her Florence speech on Friday, Theresa May confirmed the government is aiming for a transition period after March 2019, during which EU citizens would have to register and a new immigration system would be put in place. A leaked document published by the Guardian recently revealed the government’s proposals to deter “all but the highest skilled” EU workers after Brexit.
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed the statement, telling the New Statesman: “The government published a paper in June outlining its offer to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. This initial document outlined the requirements for settled status and we have continued to provide further details after each round of our negotiations with the EU. The statement issued by The 3 Million group today reiterates our public position on these issues.”
As reports of discrimination against EU citizens have increased since the referendum and as many EU nationals are considering leaving the UK, The 3 Million group is “asking the Government to urgently issue public anti-discrimination guidelines for employers, landlords, public services and industries”. The group will be reserving its judgement “on any future process” until “they are satisfied” with the negotiations’ outcome.
This confirmation comes as pressure piles on the government to make progress in the Brexit talks, which resume in Brussels this week. EU leaders including Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Petri Sipilä and French president Emmanuel Macron have repeatedly asked the British government for clarity on the future rights of EU citizens in UK and the issue of the Irish border.
This confirmation that the UK government will not adopt measures deemed to create a “second class” of citizens, as many EU nationals have feared, is reassuring. But that it had to be confirmed – and indeed that it was ever a rumour at all – is telling of the attitude the government has shown towards Europeans living in the UK over the last year, and of the tense negotiations still ahead.