‘Rights deal should not apply during transition’ – May

Mrs May says people coming to the UK knowing it is leaving should not expect the same treatment as other expats

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is opposed to the EU’s wish for the expat rights deal agreed in principle last year to apply fully to EU citizens coming to Britain during a post-Brexit transition period.

As a second phase of negotiations is about to get under way focussing on the transition which Mrs May asked for in her speech in Florence last year, she told journalists in China that Britain will contest terms laid out by the EU last week.

The EU said in new negotiation directives that the proposed transition period should not last beyond the end of 2020 and that EU citizens going to live in Britain or British people coming to the continent until that date should benefit from the same protections that have been worked out for established expatriates. These protections aim to ensure that key rights continue for expats as before Brexit and are expected to be set out formally in an exit treaty if Britain is to leave in an ‘orderly’ manner next year.

However, Mrs May told journalists that “when we agreed the citizens' rights deal in December we did so on the basis that people who had come to the UK when we were a member of the EU had set up certain expectations – now for those who come after March 2019 that will be different because they will be coming to a UK that they know will be outside the EU”.

She added: “"It was right that we have made an agreement that ensured they could continue their life in the way they had wanted to.

“I'm clear there is 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."

Speaking in Florence last year, Mrs May asked for a transition period of “about two years” during which “access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms”, saying that “businesses would welcome the certainty this would provide”.

In China she reiterated the wish for an “implementation period” of about two years, but sought to downplay fears of some Brexit supporters that the situation could continue indefinitely.

“We are not talking about something that is going to go on and on,” she said. “We're leaving the European Union. There is an adjustment period for businesses - and indeed government - for changes that need to be made.”

The European Parliament’s lead Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt (who is holding a discussion with expat campaigners this morning on his Facebook page) criticised Mrs May’s position, saying that full rights for those moving during the transition is “not negotiable” and that the parliament will not accept “two sets of rights” for citizens moving before Brexit or during the transition period.

“For the transition to work it must mean a continuation of the existing aquis [EU rules] with no exceptions,” he told The Guardian.

The3million group for EU citizens in the UK also opposes the policy, saying such a distinction would cause ‘utter chaos’.

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