Theresa May has today sent an email to EU citizens with the intention of demonstrating that their rights are her ‘first priority’. It doesn’t tell us much more than we knew from the Brexit negotiations at the end of September.
Since the referendum, the UK Government has issued various assurances about EU citizens’ future in the UK (largely with little substance) alongside regular allegations and denials of their treatment as ‘bargaining chips’. Yet it was not until the end of June this year that it published its detailed proposals for Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU. In broad terms, EU citizens in the UK with 5 years’ residence before an unspecified cut-off date will be able to apply for settled status, or temporary residence until they have been here for 5 years with the right to apply for settled status at that point. This gave some certainty but the finer detail has since been the subject of protracted negotiations with the EU (alongside the issues of Ireland and financial settlement). A number of key points remain unresolved despite the Prime Minister’s assurance today that ‘we are in touching distance of agreement’. According to David Davis’ closing remarks at the end of the fifth round of negotiations in Brussels last week, outstanding issues include the right to bring in future family members; to export a range of benefits; to continue to enjoy the recognition of professional qualifications; to vote in local elections; to move within the EU 27 as a UK citizen; to leave for a prolonged period and retain a right to return. The Prime Minister’s message today is also silent on the unresolved issue of the ECJ’s future role in enforcing citizens’ rights.