Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

British PM clashes with EU over citizens’ rights

Theresa May says EU citizens who come to the UK after Brexit will have fewer rights than earlier arrivals

Theresa May made the comments about EU citizens' rights during a visit to China where she met China's president Xi Jinping. Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Pool via Bloomberg
Theresa May made the comments about EU citizens' rights during a visit to China where she met China's president Xi Jinping. Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Pool via Bloomberg

The British prime minister, Theresa May, sought to placate hardliners in her own party by challenging plans to give European Union citizens full rights of residency even after the UK leaves the bloc in 2019.

Speaking during a trip to China, Mrs May said that EU citizens should not benefit from full citizens’ rights if they come to the UK after the planned ‘Brexit’ date of March 2019 but during an anticipated two-year transition period.

The EU says that citizens who arrive during the period of transition should be treated the same as those that arrive before March 2019. Mrs May said it would be subject to negotiation.

“I'm clear there's a difference between those people who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is no longer a member of the EU," she said.

The EU position means that anyone who settles in the UK before the end of the transition period would have the right to stay, work, claim child benefits and other social security protections.

Polls suggested that immigration and control of the country’s borders were two of the key issues that persuaded Britons to vote to leave the European Union in a referendum in 2016. It followed a large influx of European workers who took advantage of freedom of movement rules with the eastwards expansion of the trading bloc.


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During the transition period, Britain will continue to follow EU rules including on the free movement of goods and people, but have not decision-making role within the world’s largest free trade bloc.

EU officials said it would lose access to the substantial European single market during the transition if it failed to guarantee citizens’ rights.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit spokesman, told The Guardian: “Citizens' rights during the transition is not negotiable.”

And Philippe Lamberts, a European lawmaker who deals with Brexit, told Reuters that the EU was prepared to “stand firm” during negotiations on the issue.

The prime minister’s comments were seen as an attempt to stave us disgruntlement from a wing of her party that wants a clean break from the EU.

Mrs May has faced continued rumours of a challenge to her leadership since calling snap elections last year which backfired and left her Conservative party with no overall majority.

Anna Soubry, a former minister and vocal anti-Brexit Conservative MP, said the prime minister could not use the issue of citizens rights as “red meat” to satisfy hardliners in the party. “PM needs to see them off or risk losing the support of moderates,” she said in a Tweet.

Nicolas Hatton, the founder of the3million group which campaigns for citizens’ rights, said that the prime minister’s proposals would create chaos.

Updated: February 1, 2018 08:07 PM