In a move sure to annoy Brexit supporters, envoys from all European Union member states (not including UK) said EU citizens should be able to secure full UK residence rights during the two-year transition period after Britain leaves the bloc.
Curbing immigration was a key reason why Britons voted by 52% to 48% in the June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, following a large influx of EU citizens into the country, especially from poorer countries in eastern Europe.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, the ambassadors of the other 27 EU states agreed with the executive European Commission on January 10 that EU citizens’ residence rights should continue after Brexit because Britain will still be bound by all EU laws during the transition phase.
The envoys were discussing the details of a new mandate for the Commission, which will negotiate on the EU’s behalf on the transition period and a new trading relationship with the UK.
A joint EU-UK report published in December said the cut-off date – known as “the specified date” – for EU citizens’ eligibility to secure UK residence should be 29 March 2019, but it left room for “appropriate adaptation”.
The EU envoys endorsed a note to the bloc’s leaders from the Commission that said: “The specified date should… be defined not as the date of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, but as that of the end of the transitional period.”
According to Reuters, the envoys also broadly supported the possibility of extending the transition period beyond two years if – as many expect – more time is needed to negotiate a new free trade agreement with Britain.