A unilateral legal guarantee for EU nationals in the UK could only undermine the position of our own citizens living in the EU


March 13, 2017

A House of Lords amendment to the Article 50 Bill is to be considered in the House of Commons today. If passed, it could severely undermine the Prime Minister’s ability to secure the rights of nearly a million UK citizens living in the European Union.

Those campaigning for this amendment deliberately ignore the fact that the vast majority (85%) of EU nationals now in the UK will have lived here for the required five years to qualify them to apply for certification of permanent residence by the time we leave the bloc, regardless of what happens during the Brexit negotiations.

As regards the rest, legislation will be required to create a legal basis for between 500,000 and one million people who may be in the UK by the time of Brexit but who will not have been here long enough to qualify for permanent residence.

These are the main conclusions of a new paper being published by Migration Watch UK.

The paper argues that while offering a unilateral guarantee to EU nationals might prompt a favourable response from the rest of the EU, it is more likely that the issue of UK nationals in other member states would slip down the agenda once negotiations got underway. Worse, the rights of British citizens could be used as bargaining chips by other member states.

The paper cites Migration Observatory research which found that around 85% of the 3.6 million EU citizens now in the UK will have already acquired the right to claim permanent residence by the time of Brexit, so their right to remain in the UK would not be affected by the negotiations.

That leaves just over half a million people already in the UK who will not have qualified for permanent residence by March 2019, as well as perhaps half a million more who may, on current trends, arrive in the UK between now and when the UK leaves the EU.

The paper argues that the date on which Article 50 is triggered – likely to be before the end of this month - would be the fairest and most practical date for a cut-off point for EU nationals to continue to accrue residency rights.

One option could be a temporary work permit, valid for perhaps two years, issued to those who arrived prior to the UK’s departure from the EU but after Article 50 had been triggered.

Lord Green of Deddington, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:

Those who are playing on the fears of millions of EU nationals who have made Britain their home are being thoroughly irresponsible. They would do better to point out that 85% of those who are here when we leave the EU will have been in the UK for five years and will, therefore be able to apply for permanent residence in the UK, whatever happens in the talks. Meanwhile, it is appalling that the concerns of British citizens living in the EU are being largely ignored. Future arrangements for both groups should be tackled simultaneously and early in the talks.


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