I believe that it is right that the first item in the negotiations is about people, the EU27 and the UK both made clear they want the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU to be one of the first issues to be resolved.
The term “citizens’ rights” refers to the rights and protections guaranteed to EU citizens living in the UK (currently estimated to be 3.5 million) and British citizens living in other EU countries (estimated to be 1.2 million).
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has stated that citizens’ rights are “the first priority” of Brexit negotiations, saying that the EU needs “real guarantees for our people who live, work and study in the UK, and the same goes for Brits.”
While no formal agreement has yet been made between the UK and the EU, both sides have laid out their positions.
On 26 June 2017, the UK government published a document outlining their plan for a “fair and serious” offer to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain. The plan states that:
EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five years, and ROI citizens, will be guaranteed ‘settled status’, and will be treated like British citizens for residence, education, healthcare, benefits and pensions purposes.
Some time before we formally leave the EU in March 2019, a ‘cut-off point’ will be chosen; all EU nationals living in the UK before that date will be able to build up five years’ residence in order to gain settled status.
However, the government’s plan has been criticised for removing a number of rights currently enjoyed by EU citizens, such as family reunion (although negotiations on these issues are currently ongoing).
The EU’s aim is to gain the “same level of protection as in EU law” for all EU citizens currently living in the UK and Brits living on the continent, as well as “current and future family members” who join the right-holder after Brexit.
After negotiations have finished, the final deal reached between the UK and the EU will reveal the citizens’ rights to be protected post-Brexit, as well as those which will no longer be protected. However, there is no formal date set for this agreement; while it is hoped that it will be reached before ‘Brexit day’, this is not guaranteed and the UK could leave the EU with no deal at all.
Many citizens - both from other EU countries and the UK - have written to me to share their stories of how Brexit and the issue of citizens' rights is affecting their lives. You can read their testimonials here.
I really do feel that with all the concerns about how we are viewed by others and following the Prime Minister’s own hype the government could have come up with a better offer. I can only hope that through the negotiations the UK manages to improve its offer and repairs some of the damage it has done. This is an issue that will determine the state of our economy, of our society and ultimately, the place of our country in the world. You can read more of my view on the UK's initial offer on citizens' rights here.