EU nationals living in the UK will not see their families broken up as a result of Brexit, Theresa May has said.
Setting out her detailed plans for protecting rights of EU nationals once Britain is out of the bloc, the Prime Minister said they would continue to be able to bring dependent family members to join them.
“No families will be split up. Family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen here before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years,” she told MPs in a Commons statement.
“After the UK has left the European Union, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.”
Mrs May, who outlined her plans to fellow EU leaders at last week’s Brussels summit, said the proposals would offer certainty for the 3.2 million EU nationals currently resident in the UK.
“Under these plans, no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU,” she said.
A Government paper outlines how EU nationals with five years’ continuous residence in the UK would be able to apply for “settled status” – effectively granting them indefinite leave to remain.
“They will be treated as if they were UK citizens for healthcare, benefits and pensions,” Mrs May told the House.
Mrs May stressed that the offer was made on the basis that it would be fully reciprocated by the remaining 27 member states.
“That agreement must be reciprocal because we must protect the rights of UK citizens living in EU member states too,” she said.
The Prime Minister received a frosty response from some EU leaders in Brussels on Friday, with European Council President Donald Tusk saying the plan fell “below our expectations”.
She insisted however that the reaction from individual leaders had been “very positive” and that there had been a “strong sense of mutual goodwill” in trying to reach an agreement as soon as possible.
Under the UK plan, EU nationals who arrived in Britain before a specified cut-off date but have been in the country for less than five years will still be able to apply for “settled status” once they have clocked up five years continuous residency.
Mrs May said the cut-off date had yet to be decided but would be no earlier than March 29 2017 – when she triggered Article 50 marking the start of the formal Brexit process – and no later than the date Britain actually leaves the EU.
EU nationals would be granted a “grace period” of two years to settle their future status while the system for applying for settled status would be made as light-touch and streamlined as possible.
The Prime Minister said that she hoped to be able to negotiate Britain’s continued participation in the European Health Card Insurance Scheme so UK cardholders would still be able to benefit from free or reduced-cost treatment while staying in the EU.
She said that a similar offer would be extended on a reciprocal basis to the non-EU states of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein.