The Prime Minister has insisted that European nationals arriving in Britain after the exit day of March 29, 2019 cannot expect all the same rights as those who came before Brexit.
Supporters of greater migration control welcomed her vow during her official visit to China to reject the EU’s claim that Britain must stick to EU free movement rules throughout the transition period of about two years that is expected to follow exit day.
The PM insisted on Wednesday that was “a matter for negotiation” .
And she declared that Europeans who came to the UK knowing it was outside the EU could not expect to enjoy the same automatic rights to settle as those who “made a life choice” to move here previously on grounds Britain was in the bloc.
Theresa May and the EU’s Guy Verhofstadt are caught in a war of words over the Brexit transition
David Davis has repeated the UK position limiting free movement after 2019
We will remain an open and tolerant country, one that recognises the valuable contribution of those with skills and the expertise to make our society better. But we will also control the overall numbers of migrants that come to the UK.
Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit “coordinator” in the European Parliament which will have a vote on the final UK-EU exit deal, insisted the UK must observe the whole body of accumulated EU law, or “acquis”, if the transition – which Mrs May calls “implementation period” – was to work.
“Citizens’ rights during the transition are not negotiable,” he insisted.
“We will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens.
“For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis with no exceptions.”
EU politicians maintain the status quo must stay during any transition
His comments were echoed by Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, the vice-president of the European Parliament.
She claimed: “I think what Theresa May is doing is trying to keep the Conservative Party Brexiteers in line.
“There should be absolutely no misunderstanding here.
“The idea of the transition is to get us both to a place where we have a new relationship but in the interim, while the UK would leave the institutions, it remains within all of the acquis.”
Verhofstadt claimed May was trying to keep her backbenchers, like Sir Desmond Swayne, happy
Belgian European Parliament member Philippe Lamberts said: “Citizens’ rights will be a negotiation point and we want to stand firm on this that new provisions only enter into force after the end of the transition period.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis underlined the UK’s view that the EU’s latest demands for the rules ot remain unchanged throughout transition contradicted what it agreed with Britain last month to end the first phase of Brexit talks.
“In the the report which we concluded and got agreement on in December, the European Union agreed that the end date of ongoing residents’ rights will be March 2019,” Mr Davis told the House of Commons.
Tory former minister Sir Christpher Chope asked ministers to “confirm that during the implementation period, all foreigners, including those from the EU, will be treated equally in having access to our country”.
Brexit minister Robin Walker replied: “We will remain an open and tolerant country, one that recognises the valuable contribution of those with skills and the expertise to make our society better.
“But we will also control the overall numbers of migrants that come to the UK.
“As we leave the EU, we’re seeking to form new, ambitious trade deals around the world with trading partners anew.
“We will have control of our borders and free movement as it has worked during our EU membership will end when we leave the EU.”
1 of 29
A Downing Street spokesman also stressed: “Anyone coming to the UK before March 2019 has a right to settle. Ongoing rights for people arriving during transition are a matter for the negotiation.
“We have said we will have a registration system for new arrivals (after March 2019). Mrs May was talking about the rights for people who arrive during transition after the implementation period is done.”
Tory MP and former minister Sir Desmond Swayne backed Mrs May’s determination to stand up to Brussels as “a perfectly proper negotiating requirement”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “One of the principle issues in the referendum campaign was gaining control of our borders. I think it is right and proper to have all of these arguments now.”
The row came as a fresh leak of internal government analysis claimed it showed the negative economic impact of curbing EU migration in the same way that non-EU citizens are limited would outweigh the benefits of a new trade deal with the United States.
Mr Verhofstadt also claimed at a hearing with MEPs in Brussels: “Prime Minister May’s comments appear to be part of a domestic negotiation within the UK Cabinet, and threaten to increase existing uncertainties for citizens, which is regrettable,” he said.
“PM May’s proposal to make a distinction between those arriving before March 2019 and during the transition could lead to discrimination against EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. EU citizens contribute to Britain; what kind of message does this send to them?”
Richard Tice, co-chair of Leave Means Leave, protested: “The EU is dictating to the UK what will happen during the transition period.
“The idea of a transition period was a ploy concocted by Brussels and others including the CBI to keep the UK chained to EU rules and regulations for as long as possible, while losing any representation it currently has in the EU institutions.
“As a result, the UK will be in a worse position than we are now, with even less control over our laws, money and borders.
“When the British people voted to leave the EU, they did not think they would have to wait for five years to do so.
“Taking back control of Britain’s borders was one of the key reasons voters chose to leave the EU.
“The sooner we leave properly, the sooner we can take advantage of the huge Brexit opportunities, to deregulate and grow our economy faster. Why wait?”