Citizens have always been our priority in the negotiations for our departure from the EU. The withdrawal agreement will provide certainty to around 3 million EU citizens in the UK and almost 1 million UK nationals in the EU, enshrining their rights in international law. The Government are clear that the reciprocal deal with the EU as set out in the withdrawal agreement is the only way to fully protect the rights of both UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. The withdrawal agreement gives these citizens certainty that they can go on living their lives broadly as now.
Today, the UK Government are demonstrating their continued commitment to put citizens first. The “Citizens’ Rights—EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU” policy paper sets out the details of our offer to EU citizens in the UK in the unlikely event of a no-deal scenario, removing any ambiguity over their future.
Without the withdrawal agreement, the UK Government cannot guarantee the rights of the 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. I am therefore urging the EU and member states to reciprocate this offer and protect the rights of UK nationals resident in the EU in a no-deal scenario. I am pleased that some countries are already taking steps to do so. I have instructed ambassadors and heads of missions to raise this with their host Governments.
In an unlikely no-deal scenario the Government are committing to protect the rights of EU citizens and their family members resident in the UK by 29 March 2019, so that they can continue to work, study and access benefits and services on the same basis as now.
As there would be no agreed implementation period, EU citizens and their family members resident here by 29 March 2019 would have until 31 December 2020 to apply for a status under the EU settlement scheme. The process will be simple and streamlined.
Without the reciprocity provided for by the withdrawal agreement, we have decided in a small number of important areas that it is appropriate that the rights of EU citizens are brought in line with those of UK nationals, to bring fairness back into our immigration system. For example, in respect of rights to family reunification, we plan that EU citizens resident here by exit day would be able to be joined in the UK by their existing close family members, such as a spouse, under existing EU law, until 29 March 2022, after which point the future UK immigration rules would apply to such family reunion.
The Government recognise the uncertainty UK nationals in the EU will face in a no-deal scenario. The UK cannot act unilaterally to protect all of the rights of UK nationals in the EU, which is why we have always prioritised reaching a reciprocal agreement with the EU and why the deal we have negotiated is the best way forward. However, where it is in our control, we will support UK nationals through this unlikely outcome, such as through bilateral arrangements on healthcare, as reflected in the recently introduced Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill.
If UK nationals in the EU were unable to continue to live their lives in the EU as they do now in a no-deal scenario and returned to the UK to live, there are a number of steps the Government would consider to address concerns that they have raised. This includes access to healthcare, education, benefits, and housing. We recognise that these would be an important part of a transition back to life in the UK.
We will continue to provide updates to UK nationals in the EU on gov.uk and through our network of embassies, consulates and high commissions. The Government will continue to press the EU and member states to reciprocate this offer and secure these rights as soon as possible for all UK nationals in the EU.
Let me reiterate that the withdrawal agreement is in the mutual interest of all our citizens. It is the only way for the Government to guarantee the rights of UK nationals in the EU.
I will be depositing the policy paper “Citizens’ Rights—EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU” in the Libraries of both Houses.