LONDON — The government was forced to backtrack from its plans to set a cut-off date of next month for when citizens of the European Union will still be allowed to settle in Britain.
Ministers issued a brief that EU citizens would only be allowed to stay in the UK if they arrived before Article 50 — the official start of the two-year negotiation period for Britain’s exit from the EU — is triggered at the end of March.
The move triggered a backlash from Britain’s European counterparts after it was pointed out that any cut-off date would breach the UK’s existing EU treaty obligations.
However, in a letter to Conservative peers on Tuesday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd reassured them that no cut-off date would be implemented without the prior approval of parliament.
“I’d also like to reassure colleagues that Parliament will have a clear opportunity to debate and vote on this issue in the future,” she said.
“The Great Repeal Bill will not change our immigration system. This will be done through a separate Immigration Bill and subsequent secondary legislation so nothing will change for any EU citizen, whether already resident in the UK or moving from the EU, without Parliament’s approval.”
Despite the letter, the government faces what Labour expects will be a “handsome defeat” in the House of Lords over the issue of EU citizens’ rights on Wednesday evening.
Peers have introduced an amendment to the Brexit bill which, if passed, would guarantee EU citizens their rights after we leave. A similar amendment was defeated in the House of Commons after ministers gave verbal guarantees that the prime minister intended to negotiate a mutual guarantee with the rest of the EU, once Article 50 is triggered.
“I’ve always been clear that after we leave the European Union we will have an immigration system that supports our economy and protects our public services, and that should mean securing the status of EU citizens already here, as well as establishing a new immigration system for new arrivals from the EU once we have left,” Rudd wrote.
“But this isn’t just about ensuring British businesses and our public sector have access to the right workers, we owe it to those many European citizens who have contributed so much to this country to resolve this issue as soon as possible and give them the security they need to continue to contribute to this country.”
However, Rudd refused to give way on the issue, saying that giving any guarantee to EU citizens in the UK now would leave UK citizens living in the EU in a state of “limbo” until the EU offers reciprocal rights.
The vote follows the defeat of another opposition amendment which would have ensured that Britain remains in the single market, after Labour joined with the government to defeat it.
Shadow Brexit spokeswoman Baroness Hayter told the House that it would be “airbrushing” the referendum vote to stay in the single market and allow the free movement of people to continue.
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