Theresa May to water down EU citizens’ rights if there is no-deal Brexit despite earlier pledge

Theresa May to water down EU citizens’ rights if there is no-deal Brexit despite earlier pledge


The Government has watered down a pledge by Theresa May to protect EU citizens’ rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit, despite an earlier pledge by the Prime Minister.

In an explanatory note published on Thursday the Department for Exiting the EU said it would continue the existing settlement scheme for EU citizens living in the UK, but make it less generous compared to what is spelled out in the withdrawal agreement.

Campaigners said it was “unacceptable” that ordinary citizens would end up paying the price for the failure of politicians to reach a good deal. They are calling for the EU and UK government to enact the section of the Brexit deal relating to citizens’ rights even if there is a no-deal – so-called “ring fencing”.

The less generous no-deal scheme would only apply to people living in the UK before 30 March 2019, as opposed up to the end of 2020 as the withdrawal agreement would.

In addition, the deadline for applications would be shortened, there would be no right to a full appeal, and it would become easier for the UK to deport people convicted of minor crimes.

Non-EU family members would also be discriminated against under the no-deal version of the scheme, with a new cut-off date in 2022 proposed for them to join to live with their families.

The Government also appears to have downgraded its aspirations on coordinating social security contributions with the EU if there is a no-deal, a policy that is intended to ensure EU citizens get the right pensions when they retire.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, who has long publicly advocated for the rights of EU citizens, said: “EU and UK citizens cannot be the victims of a no–deal Brexit, nor used as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. 

“In the case of no deal, the European Parliament and I have been clear that we want the Citizens’ rights deal that has been provisionally agreed to be ring – fenced and the EU must honour this. 

“The citizens’ rights deal shouldn’t be watered down as the UK has today proposed.” 

The British Chambers of Commerce said the advice was “long overdue” and that it welcomed the clarity.

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt (PA)

But the3million, the campaign group representing EU citizens in the UK, said: “This situation arising from a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable and it is high time now for both Downing Street and the EU Commission to get together and ring-fence, rescue the citizens rights part of the withdrawal agreement no matter what Brexit we get.”

A spokesperson for the UK government, said: “An agreement with the EU is the only way to fully protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

“In a no-deal scenario EU citizens would be able to broadly live, work and study as they would in a deal scenario. After a three year transition period, EU citizens’ right to family reunion will be brought in line with those of British citizens and non-EU nationals, ensuring fairness in our immigration system.

“There will also be some changes to reflect that there would not be an implementation period. For instance, EU citizens and their family members will have until December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme but with no six- month grace period. This guarantee would only apply to EU citizens who are resident here by Exit day.

“Also, given there will be no deal with the EU, there would be no Independent Monitoring Authority and no reference procedure to the CJEU, as it would not have any jurisdiction in the UK.

“We are strongly engaging with EU counterparts to urge them to make the same commitment to protect the rights of UK nationals in the EU.”

Theresa May said in September that EU citizens rights would be protected even in the event of a no-deal: calling them “our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues”.  

A no-deal Brexit looks increasingly unlikely, with MPs voting on Tuesday to put themselves in the driving seat if Theresa May’s deal is voted down, and the EU’s senior legal advisors suggesting the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50 if it wanted to, cancelling the departure process.


The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.

Sign our petition here



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