Theresa May has urged more than three million European Union nationals living in Britain to stay in the country after Brexit.
Recognising the “underlying anxiety” that Brexit has caused, the British Prime Minister said she was “delighted” that their rights would be protected under a deal with the EU on “divorce” issues dealt with in the first phase of exit negotiations.
Mrs May was “proud” that the EU citizens choose to live in the UK, adding in an open letter: “I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make – enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life.
“I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay.”
She assured EU citizens their rights would be written into UK law through a Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill which would be brought forward “after we have completed negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement itself”.
They will then be enforced by the domestic courts with oversight from the European Court of Justice, whose authority UK judges can consult over rights disputes for eight years after withdrawal.
And from the second half of next year there will be a “transparent, smooth and streamlined” process to apply for settled status that will cost no more than a passport, which is £72.50 for a standard adult version.
Mrs May went on: “So right now, you do not have to do anything at all. You can look forward, safe in the knowledge that there is now a detailed agreement on the table in which the UK and the EU have set out how we intend to preserve your rights – as well as the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries.
“For we have ensured that these negotiations put people first. That is what I promised to do and that is what I will continue to do at every stage of this process.
“I wish you and all your families a great Christmas and a very happy New Year.”
A joint report published by the EU Commission on Friday outlined that EU citizens in the UK will be allowed to continue to live, study and work under the same conditions as current EU law.
Negotiators also pledged that Britain’s finalised divorce deal would protect the rights of those who are yet to be granted permanent residency in the UK so that they could still acquire it after withdrawal.
The deal will include reunification rights for relatives, including spouses, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren, who do not live in the UK, to join them in the future and will extend to future spouses or partners of EU citizens even if they are not yet together as of the end of any transitional period after withdrawal.
The guarantees outlined in the document will also apply to UK citizens living in countries within the union. Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov said he would raise the issue of citizens’ rights during talks with Mrs May in Number 10.
“We will have the opportunity to speak about Bulgarian representatives who have been residing in Great Britain for over five years, about preserving and maintaining their lifestyle in spite of Brexit obviously taking place,” he said as he met the Prime Minister in Downing Street.