Theresa May’s letter to EU citizens, annotated

It must have been lost in the post for the past 483 days.

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As she travels to Brussels to continue the Brexit negotiations, Theresa May has published an open letter to EU citizens detailing some of the rights the UK government is offering to guarantee them after the country leaves the European Union. Here it is, annotated by one of those EU citizens.

***

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 –

Ah, yes, the 28, not 27, nations of the European Union, that cool group of friends we’re definitely still fully part of.

to demonstrate we are putting people first.

That’s why it took you 483 days to write this letter.

I have been clear throughout this process that citizens’ rights are my first priority.

That will be why you refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the case of “no deal” during your LBC interview A LITERAL WEEK AGO.

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.

Thanks for your support, Theresa.

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.

Such a priority, as we've said, that it you took 483 days to address it. You really must have been working hard choosing the perfect words.

When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips.

The cheeky bastards. I wonder why they could have thought that? It's not like your government ever implied that EU citizens may be fingerprinted and registered, should prepare to leave, or that employers may have to list their European employees! Oh, wait.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I repeat: it has been 483 days since the referendum. Brexit negotiations started in March. You had months to write this letter and stop treating citizens as bargaining chips but by all means, leave a quick note just as you hop on the Eurostar to Brussels, that’ll fool ‘em for sure.

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.

Given it's been 483 days of uncertainty, it would be great if you could define “living lawfully”. And perhaps, also define how to apply to permanent residency without CSI (Comprehensive Sickness Insurance) which has been retroactively introduced, putting thousands of stay-at-home parents, people who took maternity or paternity leave, and freelance workers in limbo?

But this agreement will not only provide certainty about residence, but also healthcare, pensions and other benefits.

All these great things they had certainty about before you made a mess of leaving the EU.

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.

Once again, what about stay-at-home parents? Students? Define “paying into the UK system” and then while you’re at it, define “basic human decency” too, please.

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.

It will also provide me with a Brexit deal I desperately need because I’ve lost my parliamentary majority, Boris Johnson is following me everywhere with a knife, and I can't get through a speech without a cough sweet. 

What that leaves us with is a small number of important points to finalise.

Like… literally a whole Brexit deal.

That is to be expected at this point in negotiations. We are in touching distance of agreement.

The same touching distance we are from no deal: right in the middle. Where do we go from here? Who knows!

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.

Discussions on citizens’ rights = actually I haven’t promised anything yet, let’s discuss guys.

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.

People are leaving the UK in the tens of thousands because of the reassurance you have been unable to provide in the past 483 days. 

We are developing a streamlined digital process for those applying for settled status in the UK in the future.

Cool, we were a bit tired of the 80+ page, 3kg-heavy paper application system, too.

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.

A standard adult first UK passport or renewal costs £72.50. Child passports cost £46. For a family of four, that's £237. Not exactly cheap, especially when it used to be £0. You are making EU citizens pay to stay here.

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.

Now we’re talking progress. You know what else would be progress? Having made these promises law. 483 days ago.

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.

Permanent Residency (PR) application fee is £65 + £19.20 for biometric information. PR is needed for citizenship. The UK citizenship application fee is £1,282 (Theresa: that's more than a minimum wage monthly salary). Can I ask – purely out of curiosity! – how much this simple process will cost?

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.

Ok, that’s cool. You know what else is cool? It already exists: it’s called the three million, and there isn't much indication you've been listening to them for... remind me again? Ah yes. Four. Hundred. And. Eighty. Three. Days.

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 EU citizens have repeatedly flagged that you were treating both groups – EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU – as bargaining chips. Nothing of what you’ve written so far has proved this wrong.

And we are keen to work closely with EU Member States to ensure their processes are equally streamlined.

They have been keen to work with you on this for 483 days, but hey! Better late than never, right?

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.

Music to everyone’s ears. Now get to work.

And I know that Member States value equally UK nationals living in their communities.

They even have had the decency not to treat them as bargaining chips! You go, member states.

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.

Me too. I really doubt it, though.

Pauline Bock is a New Statesman contributing writer based in Brussels. She writes about Brexit, the EU, France and the Macron presidency.